I picked up Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! from the library because it has an alligator on the cover (I’m discerning like that.)
I finished it a couple of days ago and I still can’t quite make up my mind about it. I have a weak spot for books where Place is important and there is some lovely stuff here about the Florida swamps. The premise is gold – it’s about a family who runs an alligator theme park featuring alligator wrestling shows and a museum showcasing their heavily edited family history. Then the mother dies, a Hell-themed amusement park opens, their business falls to pieces, the brother runs away from home and the older sister starts going on dates with ghosts. Fun time, y’all!
It’s not like I’m endorsing all books should be full of rainbows and unicorns – I mean, I recently read a book about Nazi concentration camps – but I was disappointed by all the standard-issue stip mall horribleness that happens. This is the point, maybe, that even if you are an Awesome Alligator Wrestler who lives on an island with a pit full of alligators your problems will still be about money or cancer or family or rape. (The rapey part particularly seemed gross and unnecessary. Rape is always gross and unnecessary, but it felt to me less a part of the plot and more something added in to up the trauma quotient.)
But there are already SO MANY books full of Bleak and Woe and Modern Life. I would have liked more ghosts and more alligator wrestling.