Swamplandia by Karen Russell.
This is one of those books that I checked out of the library because I heard about it three times in a week in three different places… I think it was two podcasts and one article I read, but I’m actually no longer sure. (I should probably not put quite so much stock in these podcast coincidences, since the authors seem to make the podcast rounds when their books come out, so of course I hear about the same book / author a few different times!)
Based on what I had heard, I thought I would really like this book. But I found it super hard to get into it. In fact, I think I ended up checking out and renewing the book three times (so that’s a total of six: check out & renew, repeat two more times) before I could get myself to finish it.
I really enjoyed the beginning stuff with the family running Swamplandia… this depiction of a weird childhood very different than anything I could have imagined. But that all ended, and there’s this whole middle part of the book where the family is falling apart, the kids are going their separate ways, and it’s … just … so … boring. I kept putting it down to do other things, or even falling asleep while trying to read it.
I did finally finish. The big chase scene(s) (such as they were) at the end picked up a bit. There’s some darkness in the start of the book, with the mother’s illness and death, and the father basically abandoning the kids and letting them fend for themselves. Still, I never saw the serious dark scenes near the end of the book coming. And they felt… I don’t know… unnecessary? It didn’t forward the story, really, or the character. It was just horrible and gut-wrenching for the sake of being horrible and gut-wrenching? I mean, maybe that’s what rape is really like. But it basically is totally forgotten or at least never mentioned again as the story wraps up… no lasting impact (or no more than anything else that happens). I don’t think that’s what rape is like.
This book and the author got all kinds of great press, and she’s written several other books, including a book of short stories one of which became Swamplandia. I don’t know if I’ll pick up any of her books again. I’d probably like the short stories… the beginnings of a bunch of novels where I never have to get to the boring parts, maybe?