Hello my Beautiful Bookworms!
Thank you ALL for the fabulous birthday wishes and making me want to eat ALL THE CAKE. You’ve still got a few days to enter the giveaway, so be sure to enter for $30 Amazon bucks- international entries welcome! Also, I’ve guest posted today on my friend Chrissy’s site. If you’re so inclined, I encourage you to check it out.
Last weekend, I took a trip to attend my “nephew’s” birthday party. When I take a long drive, I like to listen to books on tape. They keep me alert better than listening to music, plus, I mean, BOOKS. I took this trip with a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!
Are you aware that Florida boasts the most oddball theme parks per capita in the world? I may have made up that statistic, but I think I could be right. Swamplandia! is the account of a fictional family owned theme park on an island off the coast of Florida, known as (appropriately) Swamplandia. The Bigtree family is a “tribe” of alligator wrestlers. They renamed themselves “Bigtree” to sound more native, but their clan originated in Ohio. As PT Barnum would tell you, there’s a sucker born every minute. People believe what they want to believe, so if they prefer to think of alligator wrestlers as endowed with magical Native American gator charming talents, the Bigtrees are happy to oblige their delusions.
The family alligator wrestling matches are only one of the attractions. The main event is watching the family matriarch, Hilola Bigtree, dive into the gator pit and swim through unscathed. It’s a fantastic spectacle and crowd favorite. The gators are all referred to as “Seth,” I’m assuming, because “Sawtooth” was already taken. (No, they never really explained why they chose Seth. But yes, Grandpa was named Sawtooth.) Sadly, as we learn about Swamplandia’s glory days, we also learn of its demise.
Hilola Bigtree, headliner and matriarch, falls victim to cancer. Grandpa Sawtooth falls victim to Alzheimer’s. Chief Bigtree falls victim to his pride. Young Osceola falls victim to obsession. Kiwi falls victim to his limited home-school education. Ava, our 14 year old protagonist, falls victim to everyone else’s bad decisions.
So. What did I think? I’ve got mixed feelings on this novel. On the one hand, I LOVED the language. The writing was gorgeous, and the actors reading the audio book were fantastic. That said, I think sometimes the story fell by the wayside so the language could shine. Some people wouldn’t be bothered by this, but as you know, I’m a story girl. I felt parts of the novel were more drawn out than necessary (particularly Louis Thanksgiving’s extremely detailed back story…) On the upside, I now have a fantastically vivid mental image of Florida’s swamplands. Overall, the prose reminded me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism, only set in North America. With alligators and stuff. Also a theme park based on Hell. Complete with saltwater drinking fountains. (Kudos for imagination!)
For reasons I will not disclose to you, as they might be considered “spoilers,” a red gator makes an appearance in this novel. I really wanted to know if such a thing existed in nature. As it turns out, they’re not really a thing. Which means, of course, that there aren’t a whole lot of readily available images (unless you happen to email a cool blogger like Andi and she lets you borrow her stuff.) I actually thought it might be a good idea to try and make my own art! I convinced Lauren of Filing Jointly…Finally to help me with the project and… well… This happened:
And now we know why Katie and Lauren don’t have promising futures in the lucrative world of alligator caricatures. Luckily, there’s not much of a market for that sort of thing in Illinois. It’s really the deer and skunk caricature niche that’s our bread and butter, so. You know. It’s cool.
Have any of you read Swamplandia!? What did you think? Did it spur you to do anything unusual, say, sketch a species-confused alligator? Tell me about it!