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Spectacular Debut Novel

A New York times Bestseller this book about a 13-year-old alligator wrestler grabbed me from the first page with lines like, “Four times a week, our mother climbed the ladder above the Gator Pit in a green two-piece bathing suit and stood on the edge of the diving board, breathing.”

I couldn’t put it down. I begrudged those times my personal life pulled me away from the book.

Karen Russell’s voice in Swamplandia! is as unique and quirky as her complex and complicated characters.  Characters who are at once original and fresh, a whole lot wacky and a little bit creepy.  The narrator is a captivating mix of ‘knowing too much too young’ yet possessing a fundamental naive innocence that could and does get her into calamitous life-threatening situations.

The Bird Man scared the hell out of me.  Fear grabbed me from the moment this bizarre character was introduced into the story line right up until the narrator abandoned him in the swamp.

Four Out of Five Stars

One caveat:  Swamplandia! was one character too long.  I would have been even more profoundly captivated by the stories of Ossie and Ava without the distracting side tales about Kiwi Bigtree, their brother.  In particular, his air rescue scene at the end of the book was as improbable as it was impressively imaginative – go figure. This was also the point where the book seemed to veer off track slightly, to change tone as if the final scenes were more movie script than suspense-filled story writing.

All that said, it still gets 4/5 stars, and I highly recommend it.  In fact, since this was a loaner from a pal, I need to purchase my own copy so I can read it again, speed reading the Kiwi parts, of course!  I just ordered Karen Russell’s collection of short stories, “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves”!

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