Friday, March 4, 2011

Alice in Wonderland meets Ava in "Swamplandia"

Like Alice in her Wonderland, Ava in Swampland has much to say about the goings-on in our world. Oh, what a riot of fun and fancy! And, yet, oh, what a dark and shadowy little novel at the same time.

This dark little story is of a very odd, quasi-native american, gator wrestlin' family who makes it their life work to create a side-of-the-road gator festing, museum and theme park tourist trap. At first it's difficult to know how truly invested Chief Bigtree, the patriarch of the little family is in their Swamplandia world, but it is obvious that his commitment to himself runs deep.

Included in the Swamplandia homestead and gator park are his two young daughters, an older teenaged son, and a wife who dies early of cancer. When the mother and primary "gater wrestler" of the theme park dies, their lives begin to unravel as the brutal realities of grief and loss of security overcome them. Soon, the Chief disappears and the children have to manage without him. Each and every one have a story to tell and a life-view that is both genius and pitiful.

I can't remember when I've had more bittersweetness reading a book. I can't remember when a book has set me back and made me want to think about what just happened in the chapter I'd just read. And, I can't remember the last time recently I've met characters I've so thoroughly enjoyed from so many perspectives!

Ava, the youngest of the daughters is a level-headed, precocious child who wants to take care of everyone, and yet, who struggles with her own escapism, fears and fantasies. The swamp, the spirits surrounding the family and their life options, combined with the horrors and charms of the outside world and the dying of the natural, sacred swamp grounds provides the reader with an otherworldliness as we follow the characters along this tale. Ava worked as a guide for me. She was the anchor I needed to sort through the illusions vrs the realities of her world. There was a "scary houses" carnival, nightmarish feel at times to the story. When the "Dark World" begins to encroach on "Swamplandia," it holds all the anxieties of the 21st century on us.

The core love and sense of family these people share becomes iconic and deeply moving. There's survival and humanity so touching and terrible, so earthy and real that you'll be offended if anyone should break the spell and interrupt your reading.

Karen Russell is an author with unique talents. She is a true creator. She has something real and true to say, and if one listens and can hear her, they will find a gold nugget in this book. Like "Alice in Wonderland," Ava in Swampland has much to say about the goings on in our world. There's much to say about our environment and how deadly it is to man and beast, flora and fauna, alike.

It's an extraordinary trip to "Swamplandia," but you'll love it! Highly recommended.  This would be a wonderful addition to intelligent book groups!

Please leave a comment for me on this one!


PS:  Have you read this other book by Karen Russell?

"Swamplandia" derives from a story written in this collection of Russell's.  Btw, she's only 26 years old!  Such genius in her own youth!

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