The title of the novel Swamplandia! relates to its primary setting - a fictional theme park located on an island off the coast of Florida. The theme park is owned and operated on a shoestring budget by a family whose matriarch is the show's star - a woman who swims and wrestles with alligators. Struck down by cancer, the woman leaves behind a father, husband, son and two daughters. It is through the eyes of the youngest daughter, Ava, that we see how the family falls apart, comes together and falls apart again throughout this tragedy. The story takes several unexpected twists and turns, part-way through becoming almost fable-like. Ava decides that she will become the world's youngest alligator-wrestler, her sister starts talking to spirits, her brother defects to a rival theme park, and all manner of adventure happens. All of it is written exquisitely. If there is one word I would use to describe this novel it would be 'vivid'. You really do get a sense of the Florida swamps, and of what young Ava and her kin are going through.
I picked up Swamplandia! partly because of its quirky premise, and partly because it was voted by Times as one of the top 10 books of 2011. It is quirky, and it's also very good, however it is a lot darker than I had expected. If you like the sound of this book and aren't put off by an occasional delve into the sinister, then it might be for you.