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moving under skies

NYRB Classics collector. Reads anything, so long as it's good. Sometimes historian. Frequently grumpy:  you've been warned. Also at aliceunderskies.tumblr.com. 


Swamplandia! - Karen Russell

I can barely think about this except in opposition to The Tiger's Wife--I accidentally read them back-to-back, which really was a sad mistake. Not that Swamplandia! suffers in comparison: actually I think it's the better book, all things considered, and I feel bad for giving them the same rating and thinking about them as twins. It's just that I started it less than an hour after finishing the other and can barely untwine the two in my mind... So rather than a Proper Review, just a few notesy thoughts on this one.-Grief is a huge element in both books, and while TW was more austere and abstract about it, the raw pain in Swamplandia! resonated with me while TW left me rather cold. I loved how clearly the character of the missing mother came through for me even though her death is the catalyst for the whole story which is so real for how I understand grieving: it's all about grappling with the void left by a missing person while simultaneously feeling traces of them everywhere in your life, within and without. I thought that Russell conveyed this beautifully.-Characters! Loved Ava, loved the swamp and the alligators and the mother, sort of liked Kiwi even though I wasn't entirely sure that his sections strengthened the book (though I didn't feel that they were weak: just not the story I wanted to be reading), cold neutrality about Osceola and Chief, who were pale in comparison to Everyone Else. -The writing was often wonderful, with really exciting descriptions, but just as often lazy. Other reviewers have pointed out simple inconsistencies that are inexcusable from such a hyped author and lauded publisher. -Story is really where my enthusiasm flags into a muddle of mixed feelings. For most the book I was enraptured and very enthusiastic about characters, plot, setting. "It's like Geek Love without the unrootedness and sense of ick!" I thought. "Like George Saunders without the over-the-line macabre elements that often make his stories seem sort of shallow and shock-valuey to me!" It was like things that I've always wanted to like but couldn't without the flaws. And THEN it went there. It dropped sordid plot points and failed to address them or integrate them into the story. Shallow--it was unexpected and unaddressed, a huge glaring departure from the tone of the story. Lazy--it seemed less like an organically reached destination than a major authorial interference to get the intended melancholy flat-line of an ending. I'm not really one to get squeamish about Bad Things in my books but when they happen for no reason? And completely derail the plot and fizzle the ending? Bah. Once again, lost potential.