Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Abandonded Books: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

It is, of course, a cheat to review a book one hasn't read, or hasn't finished. So then this, by definition, is not a review. It's a notice, or a series of thoughts, or an admission of defeat. It's many things, potentially. In practice, it's likely to be a very short post on a book that I just wasn't in the right mood for.

Swamplandia! is Karen Russell's first novel; she'd previously published a book of stories, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, which I read and reviewed back in 2007. Swamplandia! is the story of a quirky family, running a slowly failing alligator-themed amusement park, somewhere off the Gulf coast of Florida, sometime in the last few decades. There's the gruff-but-loving father, the seemingly-perfect-because-she-just-died mother, and three adolescent children, each with their own problems.

That's not nearly enough people to run even a small amusement park -- it's barely enough people to run a single amusement -- and that was only the first of my problems with Swamplandia! This is a very literary novel, full of conceits that Russell carefully crafted to tell her quirky, oddball story. And I soon came to realize that, for whatever reason, I couldn't believe in any of them -- not the park Swamplandia! itself, not the fake-Indian background of the family, not the rotting library on a sinking boat, not the rival World of Darkness theme park, not even the narrative voice of precocious teenager Ava Bigtree. And, if you can't manage to suspend your disbelief for a book, that book is just not for you.

I'm disappointed; Swamplandia! has gotten excellent reviews, and it sounded like the kind of book I would like. It may be the kind of book you'd like, so don't take this is a dis-recommendation. But I've moved on, not without sadness, and I'm now in the middle of another book I can't believe a word of, which I'm afraid I will finish, for an external reason.

Addendum: That unnamed book in the last paragraph was Mira Grant's Feed, which I was somewhat more vituperative about not enjoying.

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