Yesterday's Tournament of Books match up was between Swamplandia by Karen Russell and Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWhitt. My review for The Sisters Brothers is here: Sisters Brothers.
I did not love either of these books, but as the tournament continues, I am pulling for Sisters Brothers. I did like it a bit more than Swamplandia! Follow the tournament judging commentary here: http://www.themorningnews.org/tob/. This may take you to the most recent match up so scroll to the correct set of books on the link to the right of the TOB site if that is the case.
Anyway, I have not yet posted my review of Swamplandia! so, here is the synopsis from Goodreads:
I listened to Swamplandia on audio. It was recommended by Ann on Books on the Nightstand, was a front runner for the Tournament of Books, and was high on many best of 2011 lists.
I thought the book was going to be about a teenaged girl growing up in a family that ran some sort of amusement park/gater boat ride. I was looking forward to the book because in the umpteen times I have ridden my bike in New Orleans I always think about taking one of those air boat cruises to see the gators. Plus, I was tickled to death the time I did see the gator in the overflow water off the levy when the Mississippi flooded last year.
I did not realize the book was going to be narrated by a young girl. The "teenager" I was expecting the protagonist to be was 12. Nor did I know that the main male character would be played by an older man who was the voice for a 17 year old.
I did not know that the book would have a heavy dose of magical realism or is this surrealism? Anyway after reading Murakami's 1Q84, I would have preferred a book that did not include ghosts, possessions (not things you own but your body being inhabited by said ghosts, and other far fetchedness.
Swamplandia was a book about a 12 year old girl, Ava, whose parents produced a carnival of sorts or maybe more of a circus with alligators instead of clowns. However, as the book starts we learn that the main draw to the park/island is Ava's mother who is dying of cancer. The rest of the book tells the awkward story of how the family copes. Oceola, Ava's older sister, ends up dabbling in the occult and her brother, Kiwi, goes to the mainland to work for Swamplandia's biggest competition while their father disappears to find investors for his next idea to save the park.
The story had a lot of potential, but I just did not enjoy it. I really got frustrated with the whole ghost/occult thing. This story line trudged in the murky swampy water for far too long. In the middle of the whole magical realism thing the author decides to walk firmly on the dark side by having the realism in "magical realism" slap you in the face. This incongruent incident bothered me in the context of the rest of the story and then nothing concerning this incident is ever addressed sufficiently in my opinion during the ending.
Kiwi's storyline was a little more light-hearted but still the book just did not seem plausible to me. And I just did not connect with the Chief or Osceola.
I would love to sit down with someone who enjoyed this book and discuss it further, but I don't know that I would recommend it to anyone.