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Russell, Karen


London : Chatto & Windus, 2011

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Part teenage adventure story, part fantasy-adventure "bildungsroman", the book centers on an almost dysfunctional family living on an isolated swamp island off the Florida coast where they operate an alligator-wrestiling show, surviving mostly on their belief in their own myths of self-importance, individually and as a family. Their lives fall apart when the mother, the lynchpin of the family, dies and their business collapses, bringing the various family members to face the crisis each in his own way. The father disappears mysteriously to the mainland, the son decides to try and save them by suffering through a job with the competing company, a daughter "elopes" with a "ghost" she calls her fiancèe, while the other daugter goes on wild chase through the swampland looking for her missing sister, the ultimate result being that in the end they discover and enter the "real" world. Russell has a taste for baroque language, with a paragraph of sometimes overly-rich emotional language interspersing even a single line of dialogue, not to mention the descriptions of the swampland environment which are meant to evoke its natural beauty, and which are presumably the source of so much praise for the author, but which are often overly long and get a bit repetetive. The novel is indeed original in its own way, perhaps recalling an American tradition going back to "Huckleberry Finn", but as happens with so many American authors, the story gets lost in its search for some sort of exotic uniqueness.

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