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Audible Editor Reviews

The Bigtree clan is a family in crisis. The mother, Hiola, has passed away and she was not only the main gator wrestler and star attraction at the Swamplandia theme park, but the glue that held the family together. Now on the verge of losing their beloved home, the Bigtrees find they are ill-prepared to deal with the real world into which they've been thrust. Each member of the family leaves their sheltered enclave convinced they can somehow turn things around. Yet do they leave Swamplandia more to save it or to escape it?

The narration duties here are divided in some very interesting ways. Actress/writer Arielle Sitrick plays the main character of young Ava in the chapters focusing mainly on Swamplandia. David Ackroyd takes on the role of Kiwi, the older teenage son, with his chapters being told mainly from a rival theme park, a place that's a bizarro alternative universe version of his previous home. The two narrators see things quite differently. Sitrick voices Ava as the winsome innocent and the mystic heart of a Swamplandia where anything is possible; however, did the nostalgic world she remembers ever really exist? Ackroyd plays Kiwi as the somewhat naive yet most practical member of the family. He has big plans and learns quickly, but finds things are not quite so easy out in the real world.

Karen Russell's Swamplandia is an amusing and well crafted piece that's a bit Florida gothic and a bit magical realism. Will Ava's rare red gator save the day? Maybe Kiwi with his big plans and Forrest Gump-like luck will come through after all? Will younger sister Osceola ever marry her long-dead ghost boyfriend? Then again, perhaps the various family pipe dreams are destined to fail, as perhaps is Swamplandia? In the end the characters and the listener have to question just what a happy ending for this quirky family would even look like. That's the journey that Russell takes you on with Swamplandia, and it's a colorful, original trip well worth taking. —Cleo Creech

Publisher's Summary

From the celebrated 29-year-old author of the everywhere-heralded short-story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves (“How I wish these were my own words, instead of the breakneck demon writer Karen Russell’s.... Run for your life. This girl is on fire," said the Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a blazingly original debut novel that takes us back to the swamps of the Florida Everglades, and introduces us to Ava Bigtree, an unforgettable young heroine.

The Bigtree alligator-wrestling dynasty is in decline, and Swamplandia!, their island home and gator-wrestling theme park, formerly number-one in the region, is swiftly being encroached upon by a fearsome and sophisticated competitor called the World of Darkness. Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, has just died; her sister, Ossie, has fallen in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, who may or may not be an actual ghost; and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, who dreams of becoming a scholar, has just defected to the World of Darkness in a last-ditch effort to keep their family business from going under. Ava’s father, affectionately known as Chief Bigtree, is AWOL; and that leaves Ava, a resourceful but terrified thirteen, to manage 98 gators and the vast, inscrutable landscape of her own grief.

Against a backdrop of hauntingly fecund plant life animated by ancient lizards and lawless hungers, Karen Russell has written an utterly singular novel about a family’s struggle to stay afloat in a world that is inexorably sinking. An arrestingly beautiful and inventive work from a vibrant new voice in fiction.

©2011 Karen Russell (P)2011 Random House

What the critics say

“[Russell] has thrown the whole circus of her heart onto the page, safety nets be damned. . . . Russell has deep and true talent.” ( San Francisco Chronicle)
“Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride. . . . This family, wrestling with their desires and demons . . . will lodge in the memories of anyone lucky enough to read Swamplandia!” ( The New York Times Book Review)
“The bewitching Swamplandia! is a tremendous achievement.”( Entertainment Weekly)

What members say

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Suzn F
  • Fletcher, VT, US
  • 2011-02-05

Sometimes Brilliant, Sometimes Disappointing

I am wrestling with myself (not alligators) about how I feel after listening to this book. This book is listed in Stephen King's top ten books you MUST read so I took his advice. I had also read a rave review from Carl Hiaasen, my expectations were quite high. And yes, I do love the premise of this story.
Ms. Russell does a beautiful job of inviting us into the swamp, we feel the heat, see the waterways, smell the wild orchids. She makes the run down theme park Swamplandia! come alive and that entertains. Throughout Ms. Russell produces beautiful prose that makes this book special.
However, I just can't join in the praise for the Bigtree tribe. Mother Hilola (think Esther Williams swimming with gators) is the star performer , Father the Chief runs the show, son Kiwi and daughters Osceola and Ava (the main character, an alligator wrestler in training) are home schooled kids who's stories drive the plot.
In the first few chapters tragedy strikes, the old theme park looses it's star performer Hilola. The children each react in their own way, and from that point on nothing goes right in the world at Swamplandia!
Although there are so many things I loved about this book, I think the narrator Arielle Sitrick does this book a terrible disservice. Her tween voice would be fine if she had read this book with even a little passion and feeling. Her narration was flat and failed miserably. Even in the most interesting parts, this narrator made me too often not care what happened next. I can usually overlook a sub-par narrator, but this time, I was so confused, I kept trying to figure out if it was truly the narrator, the prose or me. I think narrator
There were moments I couldn't put the book down, and moments I wanted to just walk away from this book.
I also felt that Kiwi' s part of the story was weak, perhaps if this part had been stronger and more engaging maybe the bad narration (female reader) could have been mitigated.
Maybe reading this book in text is a better bet.

56 of 58 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Anne
  • Melbourne, FL, United States
  • 2011-02-07

Terrible Reader

I'm halfway through the book and it is ok. Not great, not terrible - ok. However, the reader's constant mispronunciation of simple words is very distracting. Gherkin = jerkin to our reader and bromeliad = bro-mi-lad. And possibly the worst of this list, the book is set in Florida so I would hope the reader would at least be able to get the pronunciation of Florida cities correct. Nope. Ocala = Oh-cah-la. Ugh. This is very disappointing and very distracting.

Her pace and tone are fine. She is young, but this is a 13 year old girl's story so I'm ok with that.

I would assume these audiobooks are edited prior to publication. Shame on the editor. Sounds like someone took a nap when they should have been listening.

36 of 38 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Pamela Harvey
  • The Coast of Rhode Island
  • 2011-02-07

Not Interesting

While I enjoyed the richness of this book's imagery and the fluidity and grace of the writing,I could not connect with the characters nor the setting.

There is the abundant quality of fantasy in this writing, and the story reminds me of the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson books. It has the feeling of a magical odyssey, with fantastical creatures and
phantasmagoric gauntlets which the young hero must overcome. And the writing is more about creating a scene, with vivid, nuanced description than about character development. The book actually does read like a theme park ride or video game, so if fantasy is your thing, then this book is for you.

I am not surprised that Stephen King likes this book. Carl Hiassen's endorsement does not surprise me either, given the book's environmental message clothed in a story about a failed Florida swampland theme park.

I agree with the opinions about the female narrator. Mispronounced words - eg. bromeliad sounded like "bromelade" as in "marmalade" - are forgivable, but for me, her flat delivery prevented any identification with this person.

I actually did prefer the parts of the narrative that dealt with the "Kiwi" character. The male narrator had the perfect voice and just the right tone, and I looked forward to the sections that returned to his story.

I am not sure I'll enjoy the south Florida islands and wetlands with quite the same gusto as I had prior to reading this book.

32 of 34 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Jennifer
  • Farmington, ME, United States
  • 2012-04-26


What would have made Swamplandia! better?

The you woman who narrates this book is just a terrible reader. I feel like I'm listening to a high school student who has no idea how to read out loud. The narration is so amateurish that I can't say if the novel has any merit or not. Very disappointed.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Train dreams

Would you be willing to try another one of Arielle Sitrick and David Ackroyd ’s performances?

Absolutely not

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Anger, disappointment.

Any additional comments?

Please make sure professionals are narrating these books. It's a waste of money to buy a book that is so poorly performed.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Leah
  • Lawrence, KS, United States
  • 2011-02-23

Be Warned: Terrible Reader

The female (read: 13 year old girl) reader here is terrible. Nothing against the girl, but she's not a professional, and It's an awful fit for the text. I've listened to hundreds of audiobooks, and only had problems with two readers, this being one of them. Unlistenable.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Dogyeller
  • 2011-09-06

Amateur Hour

I should have heeded all the "terrible reader" reviews. The female narrator has an annoying habit of putting the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle, making the text momentarily incomprehensible. It's hard enough to stay interested in the story without the distraction of having to translate the reader's mispronunciations. The male reader is better, but I almost gave up on the book before he appeared in chapter 6. The characters are even less interesting than the story. And who would name a family amusement park the World of Darkness? Talk about your heavy-handed symbolism. From the amusement park name to the female narrator, Swamplandia is amateur hour for far too many of its 13 hours.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • sara miller
  • CA, United States
  • 2011-03-02

Murky and Slow Moving

Originating from a 2006 short story found in St.Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, Swaplandia! is Karen Russell’s debut novel and will probably be remembered for its sheer oddity and Russell’s poetic and unconventional use of language. You have quotes like, "Something lunged in me then. receded. A giggle or a sob. A noise. I thought you look very stupid dad" and "Like any hatchling gator, her snout tapered into a look of flutey suspicion". Such lush descriptions and grammatical acrobatics due demand attention (as does the exclamation point in the title), but they do little to help our plucky narrator Ava who has been abandoned by her entire family at their alligator wrestling park in the Florida swamplands. At its best pace Swamplandia! ebbs along. A secondary sub plot involving Ava’s brother Kiwi who runs away to work at a rival amusement park, goes nowhere. When the action begins, somewhere in the middle of the story—Ava sets out to save her older sister who has run away to marry her ghost lover--it’s a welcome relief which then gives way to terror as we realize the dangerous situation Ava has naively put herself in.

In case you’re unaware, Swamplandia! received a starred review from Booklist, Library Journal, and Publisher’s weekly, an A- from EW, a rave in ELLE, a plug from Stephen King amongst other glowing accounts. These accolades frankly left me stumped. I had to start the story over almost a dozen times because I kept losing interest. Yes, it is imaginative and uniquely voiced, but instead of coloring Ava’s story, these devices bog it down.

The audio book is read by a young narrator, Arielle Sitrick, and since Ava is a pre-teen, this makes sense. But the alternating chapters are voiced by David Ackroyd who is clearly a middle age man, not the tonnage Kiwi one expects. So it makes the gimmick of using Arielle pointless. Disappointed.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • W.Denis
  • Savannah, GA, United States
  • 2011-02-04

Hopes Dashed

I had high hopes for this book as I am very familiar and fascinated with Southwest Florida and its mystic islands. I tried hard to like it, but the book goes nowhere. The female reader is also very hard to listen to and should not read books for a living.

27 of 32 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Ruth Ann Orlansky
  • Northampton, MA, USA
  • 2015-09-15

Where did these Narrators come from?

I have listened to many audiobooks since 1987. I have never listened to such dreadful narration. I would love to give it zero stars. Or negative 500 stars. Giving it a single star is grade inflation.

Did the narrators come from the theatrical equivalent of Swamplandia? Or were they relatives of the recording company execs? In this day when there is a surplus of actors with theatrically trained voices, why do we get narrators who (1) speak in a monotone; (2) are unable to give each character his or her own voice so that sometimes the listener doesn't know who is who; (3) in the case of the female narrator, are totally unable to pace the narration, rushing through everything and slurring words (the male narrator paces the narration better but still suffers from the defects in (1) and (2)).

The only thing keeping me going right now is that the story is good so far, and I care about the characters. I am about 1-1/2 hours in, and if the story stops being good I'm going to deep-six this book.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Melinda
  • Shoreline, WA, United States
  • 2013-10-25

Head on into the swamp

I found this book to be quite well-written, but the decision to use 2 narrators was a distractingly bad experience... The book is solid when Ava is narrating, but when Kiwi is narrating, it, the book sounds like it isn't even being directed by the same person. If they just would have stuck with Arielle Sitrick, it would have been a MUCH better listen.

If you want diverse, quirky characters and want exquisite descriptions of the Florida wetlands... this could be your book!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful