I really wanted to love this book. It seemed like everything I love in Fiction: coming of age, first novels, witty teenagers narrating a quirky plot full of twists and nooks and crannies. To top it all off, it was shortlisted by the Pulitzers which has had an awesome streak of shortlisted books lately. What’s not to love, right?
Swamplandia! starts off pleasantly enough but it’s slooooooow. So slow that I was confused and a little bored. Russell could have cut at least a quarter of this book and nothing would be lost. It seemed to keep going with little to no feasible reason.
And then (far too late, in my opinion) (and here’s a spoiler), she gets raped. But are we even totally sure that happens? It’s never specifically alluded to, and I had to read the scene a few times to be totally sure that’s what happened. Why isn’t this a larger part of the book? I don’t know, but it gets muddy and complicated after it happens; so muddy and complicated that I came to dread her wandering through the swamp to try to find her home.
I will give Swamplandia! some props for two reasons: first, the language is often stunning and gorgeous. I wanted to steal a lot of the words and put them in my pockets for safekeeping. Also, Kiwi was such an interesting character. I think it’s because he does something. His motives are realistic (even if they’re totally stupid a lot of the time; another fault of Swamplandia!: every character makes really stupid decisions a lot of the time), and the break from the first person (which can get kind of plodding and dull) was much needed.
Oh, and that ending. What?
I expected better.