Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really struggled with rating this one - I settled on a 3 but it could have just as easily been a 2. It was honestly somewhere in between. I'm kind of sad about this book. I wanted to love it. It had such potential and yet it just didn't quite make it.
Let me start out with what DOES work - Karen Russell is an amazing writer. She blew me away at times with her word play and use of metaphor! There were phrases that literally took my breath away. Which is part of the reason that the novel falls flat overall - you'd expect so much MORE when the author writes this well! (see the end of my review for a list of some of my favorite lines from this novel - it will show you what a wonderful writer that Russell is ...)
What doesn't work so well is pretty much everything else. The plot, the pacing, the ending ... it's just not good. There is a sense of dragging that permeated the novel that is hard to describe yet it made it a very difficult novel to stick with and finish. There were moments that I contemplated just letting it go and not finishing. Yet, I kept hoping that the novel would redeem itself in the end. Unfortunately, that just didn't happen.
Given how well Russell creates a sense of place in the novel, you'd expect the actual story to be fantastic. There were just so many holes and coincidences that I just can't get past. There was a lot of looseness to the plot that I think should have been tightened up during the editing process. There were so many inconsistencies or things that just became clownish. I have to be careful here because I don't want to spoil the book but the big, horrible thing that was anticipated throughout the book happens so late and unexpectedly, just as I'd figured it wasn't going to happen. The effect was AWFUL and made the rest of the book fall apart for me. The ending ... wow. I don't want to give anything away but it was NOT effective. AT ALL. You spend the entire book thinking to yourself, ok, this is not a good idea and cannot turn out well but then it begins to unravel and all I could think is: Seriously - and this is the best you can do? Uggh. So many things occur that are just RIDICULOUS. So many coincidences that just don't make logical sense. It was as if Russell pulled everything after the big event together in a hurry or something - so much was lost, thrown together and left in some way unfinished. I can usually suspend disbelief but this time things were just stretched too far.
I am still so disappointed by this one. I really, really, really wanted to love it. I will give Karen Russell another chance in the future because she has a way with words ... I just hope that her next novel is put together a bit better. I hear great things about Russell and hope to love her next novel as much as I didn't love this one!
I don't want to end this review without sharing how beautifully Karen Russell writes ... she really has a way with words! That alone MIGHT make reading this novel worth the time? You decide!
“Hopes were wallflowers. Hopes hugged the perimeter of a dance floor in your brain, tugging at their party lace, all perfume and hems and doomed expectation. They fanned their dance cards, these guests that pressed against the walls of your heart.”
“The beginning of the end can feel a lot like the middle when you are living in it.”
“No, I don’t have to tell a soul about this, I promised myself. When you are a kid, you don’t know yet that a secret, like an animal, can evolve. Like an animal, a secret can develop a self-preserving intelligence. Shaglike, mute and thick, a knowledge with a fur: your secret.”
“Somehow I wasn't adding up right anymore. My parts weren't summing into myself.” (BEST line ever about the events that this line is referring to - and I'm not going to spoil it but it is)
“I didn’t realize that one tragedy can beget another, and another — bright-eyed disasters flooding out of a death hole like bats out of a cave.”
“Pain collected into deep pockets and I was aware of this painbut somehow I could not seem to feel it. It was like a body-deafness.”
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