When you start reading a book, it’s either sink or swim.
With Karen Russell’s Swamplandia, set in the alligator-infested Florida Everglades, we dove right in and never came up for air.
The debut novel is an extension of one of the folktales included in Russell’s buzzed-about short story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. It kicks off in the murky aftermath of a family crisis: a mother that bathes with the toothy creatures on show at her gator-themed amusement park dies of cancer.
On the emotional roller coaster that follows, 13-year-old daughter Ava Bigtree chases after her runaway (and likely spirit-possessed) sister, while her brother drifts off to work for the competitor. Meanwhile, Dad goes AWOL.
Russell deftly dips into several story lines. And though she trolls some pretty dark waters (abandonment, consumerism, hungry swamp things), there’s magic in discovering how everyone stays afloat.
Available online at amazon.co.uk, £9.
Photo: Courtesy of Knopf