"Where had all the families gone? The families were gone. All at once, it felt like. Families had been our keystone species of tourists on Swamplandia and now they were rarer than panthers."
Feelings of ennui starting to claw at your gloomy winter afternoons? Try injecting a little swamp water into your reading diet. This latest novel by Karen Russell spotlights the exceptionally odd Bigtree clan and their family run alligator amusement park. For years the Bigtree's alligator wrestling act has lured mainland Floridians out to their snatch of swamp, but with the unexpected death of the Hilola (the mother), the entire operation is suddenly at stake. Ava, big sister Osceola, brother Kiwi and Chief all have different ideas on how best to save Swamplandia from financial ruin. A dubious plan dubbed Carnival Darwinism is hatched and set in motion, while the Bigtree's must now find away to pry visitors away from new amusement-kid-on-the-block World of Darkness. Outlandish enough? Chuck in a shifty character named Birdman, a backwood romance with the ghost of Louis Thanksgiving and an unexpectedly crimson gator hatchling for good measure and let the fun begin.
This book reminds me of something that I came across a few years ago, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (which I also highly recommend). Another nutty family filled with outlandishly tantalizing characters, but I digress. Back to the swamp. I really enjoyed this book and think that Russell has a bright career ahead of her. Her attention to every quirky detail of this story is commendable as well as the years of research she spent learning the indigenous plants and animals of the Florida swamplands. This book really comes to life with her talent for character development and her penchant for creating a world around these characters that will stay will the reader long after you are finished reading. I appreciate her timorous prose and will start exploring tickets to an alligator wrestling show in Florida where my wife and I will be spending part of our upcoming holiday. If you and your loved one can't make it to the Sunshine State in the foreseeable future, try checking out this book. After all, the gift giving season is upon us and what better gift to give the one you love, than the gift of swamp.