Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Magic Kingdoms

As I listened to Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, I thought that it was a very strange book.  I couldn't understand some of the youngest character's choices, and thought that Russell must have done detailed research into the minds of traumatized children in order to make Ava believable.  Then I realized that when I should have listened to disc 6 (of this 11 disc book), I listened to disc 9 instead.  When I eventually listened to disc 6, just before disc 10, more pieces came together, but really, Swamplandia! is still a twisted tale.

Swamplandia is a fictional amusement park, set in the swamplands of Florida, where the main attraction is Hilola Bigtree, an alligator wrestler, and the mother of Ava, Osceola and Kiwi Bigtree.  The children are "home schooled" on their island, but this schooling seems to consist of a great deal of ticket taking and popcorn making, and very little attention to current educational standards.  Ava, who is 13, is being trained to wrestle alligators, and this apparently has not come to the attention of the Florida child welfare authorities.  Osceola regularly falls in love with the ghosts who she meets via her Ouija board, and goes on "dates" with them.  Kiwi is the Bigtree who is least enthralled with the idea of Swamplandia, but even he goes to bat to save it when attendance drops off.

Russell is very clever in her mocking of the Florida theme park scene.  The parks that she creates for her characters to inhabit seem inevitable in a sad way.  When Kiwi leaves Swamplandia to try to make enough money to save it, he goes to work at the World of Darkness, a competing amusement park which features demonic rides and attractions.  Although the kids occasionally catch glimpses through the cracks in the Swamplandia propaganda, it is not until Kiwi is off the island that he is able to see the shortcomings in the park, his education, and his parents.

This is an interesting book that I am guessing will make the 2011 NYT list of Notable Books.  There are two very favorable NYT reviews here and here.

In Other News:  Today I ordered my turkey for Thanksgiving!  I also picked up my second 1/4 cow this past weekend.  If you don't understand why this is relevant to this blog, read my post about Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Running Commentary:  As you might know, I started this blog to keep track of my mileage, times, and random thoughts while I was training for the Chicago Marathon.  I realized after one 10K race that I truly am not a runner.  But it turns out that my son is!  Last weekend he signed up for a 5 K race, and made a starting line decision to run a half marathon instead.  Things you do when you are 13 . . .

Next up on CD:  The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Still reading:  The Paris Wife  by Paula McLain

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