Swamplandia!

Karen Russell, Author
Karen Russell, Knopf, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-26399-5
Reviewed on: 12/06/2010
Release date: 02/01/2011
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Hardcover - 496 pages - 978-1-4448-0980-0
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Hardcover - 607 pages - 978-1-4104-3841-6
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Few novelists debut with as much hearty recommendation as Russell, a New Yorker 20-under-40 whose cunning first novel germinates a seed planted in her much-loved collection, St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. We return to Swamplandia!, the once-thriving Florida tourist attraction where the Bigtree clan—Ava, Ossie, Kiwi, and the Chief—wrestles alligators. After the death of mother Hilola—the park's star alligator wrestler—Ava, the youngest Bigtree, takes her place in the spotlight while her sister, Ossie, elopes with a ghostly man named Louis Thanksgiving, and brother Kiwi winds up sweeping floors at Swamplandia!'s competition. Worst of all is the disappearance of the Chief, spurring Ava to embark upon a rescue mission that will take her from the Gulf of Mexico to the gates of hell, occasionally assisted by an unlikely extended family that includes the geriatric Grandpa Sawtooth, the Bird Man, and a tiny red alligator with the potential to save the park. Russell's willingness to lend flesh and blood to her fanciful, fantastical creations gives this spry novel a potent punch and announces an enthralling new beginning for a quickly evolving young author. (Feb.)
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