This novel was a lot of things to me - a story of imagination and adventure, a beautiful depiction of the power of family, and, at times, a haunting thriller. I finished it sometime in the middle of June, but it has taken me weeks to really articulate my thoughts on it.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell follows the story of the Bigtree alligator wrestling dynasty and their alligator themed amusement park in the Florida Everglades. When the park begins to tank, Chief Bigtree (the eclectic father of the Bigtree clan) departs to the mainland in order to take care of "business." With the three Bigtree children left to fend for themselves, they each begin to react in their own unique and dysfunctional way. Kiwi, the oldest, follows his dad to the mainland and begins working at the World of Darkness - a competing theme park - in order to send money back to his family. Ossie begins practicing magic and then falls for (and decides to chase after) a ghost called the Dredgeman. Ava, the youngest and one we get to know best, feels she is forced to embark on a journey across the Everglades, with the island Birdman, in order to save her sister and her family.
Swamplandia! starts off as a quirky and whimsical tale of a family of alligator wrestlers, but quickly turns into so much more. Immediately, I was sucked into the lives of the three Bigtree children - immersed in their magically skewed perception of the world. As we follow the demise of the park, and the subsequent way each child reacts, you feel that the story must be building towards a literary climax. But, then it doesn't. There are a lot of directions this story could have followed, but instead, you're left wanting.
Without giving away spoilers, I felt a certain event that happened near the end of the novel was grazed over too quickly - we were left with too many unanswered questions. The event, potentially poised by Russell to be the climax, was deeply disturbing and traumatic, yet played off in a light and childish manner. Though we're experiencing this through the eyes of a 13-year-old, I felt there should have been some sort of follow-up or consequence to the actions.
After that, the novel resolved itself fairly quickly - leaving the reader to wonder about what happened to some of the characters she spent so much time developing in the beginning (I'm looking at you, Ossie). I really did enjoy myself reading this novel, but just wish it came through with a stronger ending.
Have any of you read Swamplandia! by Karen Russell? What are your thoughts?