When the evening news broadcast offers little of interest, my wife and I, as is often our habit during dinner, turn our attention to reading and writing. Last night she asked, “What should I read now?” Having just finished “A Sense of an Ending” (read on my recommendation), and enjoying it as I knew she would, my credibility was high and warranted another recommendation. I withheld the obviously snarky “Well, you could finally finish War & Peace,” and, instead mentioned that I was two thirds through Karen Russell’s “Swamplandia!”
I told her, truthfully, that I was enjoying the book, and she asked what it’s about. Okay, I said, it’s about a family in southwest Florida who run an island alligator/alligator wrestling theme park; the mother, and star attraction, has died, the son (the oldest child) has run off to the mainland to work at their new and ominous competitor to earn money to save their beloved “Swamplandia!” and earn his GED; the oldest daughter has run off to marry a ghost, and the youngest daughter and budding alligator wrestler extraordinaire, Ava, has embarked with a “Bird Man” in search of her sister (the father has run off to the mainland for God-only-knows-why). Right. You describe that plot and those characters and see what sorts of looks are returned.
We’d mostly finished dinner and I mindlessly alternated between scooping celery stalks or broccoli florets into Marzetti’s Ranch Veggie Dip (“Light” style—40% fewer calories and 0 Trans fat!) when I went on to express concern about the alternating first person and close-3rd chapters. (Not that this can’t be pulled off; I loved Richard Russo’s “Bridge of Sighs,” as did my wife, where this structure was used most effectively, but an author must bring it all together in the end to avoid the reader feeling, at least somewhat, manipulated.) Just when I noted that “I’d See” if Karen could pull it all together, a single, tiny broccoli bud flew quite surreptitiously down my air pipe.
Of course, I gagged and coughed with spastic, phlegmy intent, only to have the damned spot of vegetable lodge annoyingly beyond where water and my most dramatic esophageal convulsion could loosen. Now I’m not saying that Karen Russell’s mystical characters, nor magical prose style, contributed to my choking predicament (the offending morsel did finally absorb or simply disappear), but let me just set the record straight: I’m SURE that, in the remaining pages, Karen Russell will render any thought of criticism mute! Powerfully talented writer—Don’t mess with her…And for God’s sake don’t talk with your mouth full—of broccoli!