Swamplandia! review: What a downer

The book was a Pulitzer finalist, but was definitely not for me

Posted April 21, 2011 in Books & Comics

I first head about Karen Russell’s debut novel ‘Swamplandia!’ in Entertainment Weekly, when Stephen King — who read it pre-release — called it one of the best books he read in 2010. “Don’t miss it,” he wrote. So I didn’t. I bought it on my Kindle just days after it was available.

The book was interesting, well-written and had some really great characters. But I hated it.

I know I’m in the minority. The author has received several awards, and most reviewers — including the New York Times, which called it ‘a marvel’ — loved ‘Swamplandia!’.

It’s just so depressing.

‘Swamplandia!’ is about a family called the Bigtrees that run an alligator amusement park in Florida, Swamplandia!. Their world starts to fall apart when the mother, an alligator wrestler who is the park’s main attraction, dies from cancer, and the grandfather gets sent to the saddest-sounding old folks home in history. Father ‘Chief’ Bigtree (whose family is NOT Native American) is up to his eyeballs in debt and trying to save the park. Brother Kiwi takes off, and younger sisters Ava and Ossie (who believes she is dating ghosts) are left to fend for themselves.

I don’t need every book I read to be frothy and fun and have a happy ending. But ‘Swamplandia!’ was just one horrible thing after another happening to children. Nothing good ever happens to them. And that’s even more heart-breaking because Russell made the characters so interesting that you really care about them.

I’m sure there are plenty of people who will love this book. I’m just not one of them.

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