A debut novel from Russell (stories: St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, 2006) about female alligator wrestlers, ghost boyfriends and a theme park called World of Darkness.
Ava Bigtree is experiencing some hard times in making it through her childhood. Her mother Hilola, a world-class alligator wrestler at the family tourist compound Swamplandia! (which Russell always writes with an exclamation point), died of cancer, so business has fallen off considerably. Perhaps even more significant, World of Darkness recently opened and started draining away customers from Swamplandia! Because the Bigtree family business was on an island off the coast of Florida, no one in the family had much experience with mainland life. Ava, who narrates roughly half the book, would like to follow in her mother's alligator-wrestling footsteps, but her age prevents her from reviving the business. Her brother Kiwi joins the forces of evil, as it were, by taking a job at World of Darkness—one of its big draws is the Leviathan, a ride in which tourists slide down a seemingly saliva-soaked tongue of a giant whale—but also by getting the education he lacked on the island. Kiwi hopes to send money home but finds after meeting all the exploitative fees charged by his boss that he has almost nothing left. Ava's sister Ossie (short for Osceola—she's named after the Florida Indian tribe) starts paying close attention to the results of a Ouija board, finds an old dredge in the swamps near her home, and goes off with the ghost of Louis Thanksgiving, who had died in the swamps years before. Meanwhile, the patriarch of the Bigtree clan, known as the Chief, abandons the whole sorry business and finds a job at a mainland casino. The narrative becomes a quest of sorts as Ava, accompanied by a bizarre character called the Bird Man, poles through the swamps in a mythic attempt to locate her sister. Throughout this search, Russell evokes archetypal journeys through underworlds and across the Styx.
Quirky, outlandish fiction: To say it's offbeat is to seriously underestimate its weirdness.Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
The Tamiami Trail, a two-lane road connecting the wealthy city of Naples with bustling, multicultural Miami, cuts through a river of grass known as the Florida Everglades. This wonderfully unique combination of wildwood hammock and cypress slough has been home to the mound-building Calusa, then the Seminoles, and now the quirkiest, most delightful group of all, the fictitious Bigtrees. A once-thriving destination for blue-haired tourists from the Midwest, Swamplandia boasted airboat rides and alligator wrestling until the death of the feature performer, matriarch Hilola Bigtree. The grieving chief fails to recognize that his kids are suffering, too. Osceola, the oldest daughter, communes with the dead. Kiwi, her brother, makes a pact with the devil, the Disney-esque attraction, World of Darkness, and precocious Ava secretly nurtures a rare red alligator, hoping to revive the family business. Like a kinder, gentler Carl Hiaasen, Russell manages to skewer all the Florida bad guys--Big Sugar, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Casino Gaming Commission--while writing a love song to paradise and innocence lost. VERDICT This wildly imaginative debut novel, coming on the heels of the short story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, delivers on Russell's status as one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists. A phantasmagorical tale of teens left on their own to battle their demons, mixed with a brief history of the Sunshine State, Russell's book will appeal to young adults as well as their folks. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/10.]--Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL[Page 69]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC