Hell on Earth

Karen Russell’s novel Swamplandia! is an expansion of her short story “Ava Wrestles the Alligator” from her 2006 collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Ava Bigtree, age 13, and her alligator-wrestling-theme-park family, live on an isolated island in the Florida swamplands. They fail to cope with their mother’s—the gator-pit-diving star of the show—succumbing to cancer. The park’s visitors trickle to nil, and one by one, the older family members disappear with intentions to rescue the park, chase ghosts or each other. The children are forced to come of age alone and in hellish places or predicaments—like eldest brother Kiwi at a hell-themed amusement park on the suburban-nightmare mainland. Russell tells the tale from Ava’s perspective but abruptly changes gears to third person to recount Kiwi’s experiences. With flowery language, Russell paints the odd environs of a quirky family at an unusually difficult time in their lives.