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Wrestling the Seths

  • Nov 26, 2012
This is a book with an unusual theme, a family of alligator wrestlers on their own island off the coast of Florida. Their father claims that they are part native American, but the narrator suspects that this claim is just for the titillation of the tourists, who come by ferry to see the wrestling show, and watch the narrator's mother dive into, and swim across, a pool full of live Seths (what the family calls alligators).

When the mother dies the family appears to fall apart. The father takes off for the mainland, the oldest child, a brother, goes also to get a job at a competing tourist attraction, the older sister communes with ghosts and intends to marry one, and the narrator, 13 years old, seems to be left as the only one interested in saving the family business.

There are a lot of strange and interesting happenings in this book, and the writing at times is quite lyrical. There just seems to be too much swamp stuff going on, and it gets a bit tiresome occasionally. Often it seems that the author has lost control of the plot, and uses some almost unbelievable actions to reunite the family. As a first novel I found it very interesting, and can recommend it.

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About the reviewer
Frank J. Konopka ()
Ranked #89
I'm a small town general practice attorney in the hard coal region of Pennsylvania. Books are my passion, andI read as many of them asI can. Being the President of the local library board for over … more
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Guest Reviewer: Carl Hiaasen

Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in Florida. He is the author of twelve novels, including the bestsellingStar Island,Nature Girl,Skinny Dip,Sick Puppy, andLucky You, and three bestselling children’s books:Hoot,Flush, andScat. He also writes a weekly column forThe Miami Herald.

This was the first time I’ve read Karen Russell’s work, and I was dazzled. It’s very rare, among the tonnage of manuscripts and galleys that land upon one’s desk, to come across a young novelist so inventive and versatile, yet so thoroughly in control. Also, I’m a sucker for any plot line that features man-eating reptiles.

Swamplandia!is the story of Ava Bigtree, a 12-year-old alligator wrestler who embarks on an improbable journey through the mangrove wilderness of southwest Florida in search of a lost sister. Young Osceola has run off with a ghost-figure named Louis Thanksgiving, and only Ava knows where to look for them, dreading what she might find. Passages of this fine novel call to mind Conrad, Garcia Marquez and even – for those who have kids – Judy Blume. There’s not a forgettable character in the cast, from Ava’s flamboyant father, Chief Bigtree, who runs the family’s failing tourist trap, to the bedraggled and cryptic Bird Man, who guides Ava on her harrowing trip.

Having spent many days in the Ten Thousand Islands, I was enchanted by Russell’s dream-like descriptions of the tangled ...

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