Been trying to finish “Swamplandia!” since way before the move out here. I bought it to read on the plane and ended up watching free cable. I was expecting this book to take me back to a near perfect time in my life. At the age of nine my family moved from the bay area in CA to a small island in Florida where we lived when my dad worked in the aerospace industry. My father dangled the promise of seeing alligators so much that in the car trip to Florida he would yell “alligator” and we would fly to the windows only to see an old tire tread go by. The first time I saw a real alligator in the store it was about a foot long and had beady little eyes and was anticlimactic to say the least. Baby gators were sold everywhere and I’m glad now my parents held their ground in vetoing one being raised in our bathtub.
Merritt Island was a kids paradise. We were surrounded by swamps, palm trees, strange sea life and poisonous snakes. It was heaven and I was too young to know any better. I saw Horseshoe Crabs while patrolling the water’s edge near our house, observed dangerous Water Moccasins swimming across the river’s surface and almost jumping on a huge one coiled up on the base of a cypress tree. I remember spiders the size of my hands and lots of mosquitoes and ghostly Spanish Moss draped on all the trees. I saw Hammer Head sharks longer than our 18 foot boat, colorful jelly fish and dolphins arcing out of the ocean. I saw a Manatee covered in barnacles swim down our canal but I never, ever saw a full grown gator in the wild. Thankfully.
Not long ago in a Readers Digest magazine I was horrified to see a photo of a 20 foot alligator, weighing almost 2,000 lbs, that poachers had killed in the waters where we used to swim. I know it started out in someone’s bathtub.
I admit I had too many preconceived notions of Karen Russell’s book. I really enjoyed the big brother Kiwi and his friend Vijay and found chapters about him touching and funny. She lost me when she started introducing ghosts and the underworld. I didn’t care enough about the older sister Ossie to be concerned when she disappears and I wondered what the point of Ava’s experience with Birdman was. I think alligators can hold their own without the supernatural. She could have really built a great story around gator-wrestling don’t you think? The few parts where Ava and her mom swim in the alligator infested pit were page turners. Need I say “Crocodile Hunter”?