Book review: Swamplandia!

What a depressing book.

I had wanted to read this for a while. It takes place in Florida and, from what I had read, was a quirky story about a family of alligator wrestlers in the 10,000 Islands area. So I thought it might be something I’d enjoy.

Well, the description above was correct, as far as it went. But the story really starts when the mother of the family dies, leaving their gator-wrestling show without its star and the family without its anchor. Both the show and the family quickly disintegrates. The oldest child, a 17 year old boy, runs away to work for a nearby theme park, intending to make enough money to get the family out of debt and restore the gator show to its former glory. But he is poorly prepared for the reality of life off the island. The father disappears to the mainland for reasons unknown. The middle child, a 16 year old girl, slowly goes crazy and runs away. And the youngest, a naive 13 year old girl, goes off into the swamp with a stranger to look for her sister.

The book is told from the standpoint of the youngest girl, in first person, and the oldest boy, in third person. That works okay, since the jumping back and forth occurs no more frequently than from chapter to chapter. The book is very well written, I think. No quibbles there. It’s just very grim – a study in bad parenting. The kids were raised by wolves, basically. And the effects of that isolation prove devastating.

If you don’t mind grim, go ahead and read this book. From a writing standpoint, it’s quite good. But don’t expect happy endings.

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