Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

If last year was any indicator — which it probably was — this may be the last fiction book I read with any kind of efficacy for about 9 months.  Sniff.  There aren’t many complaints I have about grad school, but at the top of a very short list is this: my reading is taken up by articles and nonfiction, which taxes the brain and the soul.  I need my fiction, people!  I don’t know when most of you read books during the day, but before bed has always been a favorite for me, with quiet afternoon a close second.  Bedtime after a long day though is disastrous for remembering plot points and characters, no matter how poignant or abrasive or thrilling the story.  The Paris Wife is next on my list, so let’s hope I don’t let poor Mrs. Hemingway languish for months and months as I read one page per day.

Swamplandia! had all the weirdness I want from a book — a story about a family of alligator wrestlers who fall on hard times when a rival theme park moves in and takes away their customers.  It really turned out to be three sections — the first section about the family members finding outlets for their grief after the mother’s death (not a spoiler), the second an unintentional group of short stories going back and forth between Ava and Kiwi’s respective journeys, and the third a “dark night of the soul” type ending that culminates suddenly in the most Pollyanna way I could imagine.

I liked the quirkiness of the first section.  The family history and the set up of the Swamplandia! park and especially the descriptions of the mother were heartening with just the right amount of darkness to them.  Russell created a family that was wacky, quintessentially American, and easy to love.  Then in the second section everything falls apart, and although the humor is still pushing around in the peripherals,  it just seems like nothing is actually going to go right for anyone and the whole book becomes hopeless and dismal.  The reader watches characters make choices that seem not only weird, but are definitely bad. It’s not uncomfortable exactly — dismal really is the right word.

And then every bad thing you imagined might happen to the characters after their bad decisions (which, by the way, work because they are adolescents.  I didn’t feel any kind of sympathy for Chief Bigtree, the father, because there’s just no world that exists in my head where a parent should make the decision he does) DOES happen to them.  But suddenly!  The great Deus ex machina to the rescue!  And abruptly everything’s back to the tone of the first section again — the family is going to make it through this together, yo ho ho, isn’t the world funny?

Not really.

I haven’t read anything else by Russell, and I did really enjoy her writing early in the story.  I just appreciate consistency in the books I read.  If I should be ready for a long deep look into the evils of the human psyche, I can do that and appreciate that.  If I should be ready for a lovely story about the strengths of families and the storms they can weather together, I can do that and appreciate that.  But I can’t switch back and forth between the two.

I hear good things about Russell’s first book, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves, as if that title wasn’t enough to make me want to read it.  And although this is largely a complainy post, I really did enjoy the book — just not as one unit.  So I will check out this other novel, if only to see how many girls are raised by wolves and whether St. Lucy makes it through alive.

In about 20 minutes, I’m off to my first class of fall quarter.  Good bye, summer!  Good bye, fiction books!  It’s me, not you!  I’ll try to keep in touch, novels!

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Seasons — Summer 2012

Wow.  A big one, for sure.  This summer was filled with…

…happiest places on Earth…

…lots of goodbyes to much-loved stuff…

…beach business…

…9 years of luv…

…handy beginnings…

…and handier endings.

On to Fall!

 

Seasons – Spring 2012

Spring has sprung, and brought a plethora of beginnings into our lives.  Yikes!  Things are going to start happening to me…now!

A new city…

…A new school…

…A new home…

…A new time for the fam…

…A new way to celebrate Mother’s Day — with a tickle and a wiggle…

…and a new man at two!

Seasons: Winter 2011-2012

Whoops!  Although I do have all of my decorations taken down, I’m a little behind on my seasonal updates!

This winter brought…

…the excitement that comes with Santa…

…giving and receiving…

…the jolly “Ho-Ho-Hipster” Dad…

…merry merry, spirits, and goodwill…

…a foggy but fulfilling New Year’s Eve…

…the return of the “Baby Bandie” at pep band…

…knitting successes…

…and knitting failures…

…and what winter would be complete without sliding!  (Vegas style)

Spring soon to come, along with all the changes it brought!

Seasons: Autumn 2011

Despite having seen Christmas decorations out even BEFORE Halloween, I am determined to give the season of Fall its due.  Lots happening, lots to remember.

This autumn brought…

…a new creation, new art to carry forever…

…fun times with Grandparents in exotic locales…

…another great Nevada Day/Birthday Weekend…

…a little Wild Thing who will eat you up, he loves you so…

…good food, loving family — lots to give thanks for…

…and lots of time to reflect and relax away from the craziness of it all.

Yay for Fall!

 

Someone else’s art…on me

I have been wanting a tattoo for years. Years! And I’ve had the idea of what I wanted all along, but have been waiting for an artist whose work looked interesting, unique, and in keeping with my idea. This summer, Jason Schroder of Incognito Tattoo was brought to my attention by Drew, and once I saw his work, I knew I’d found the right person.

So here it is!

He made the sketch specifically for me, and I couldn’t be happier with it or the whole experience. It’s a statue of the Greek goddess, Athena (who, among other things, is the goddess of crafts! Knitters unite!) and a hummingbird. I really love all the colors on the hummingbird — it’s quite vibrant in person — and the coloring of Athena as a statue is beautifully done. I wasn’t expecting it, but I also like how much of my skin shows through in the statue part.

I don’t want to drone on and on about what the imagery here represents, but I’ll give you a few thoughts to ponder, and then we’ll say nothing more about it.

Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom, the art of war, and crafts. The “art of war” certainly doesn’t apply to me, but as a teacher, I like to think I am heavily invested in the ideals of wisdom, and as a knitter, I am a crafty lady myself. So the statue of Athena represents me as an individual, separate from the influence of others.

The hummingbird comes from when I was pregnant, and represents my new family, and family members who have passed on…even though I see the irony, that those family members would not have approved of a tattoo. But to each their own, right?!? I hope so. Hummingbirds have always reminded me of my grandmother, who was so like a hummingbird herself in later life, small and seemingly frail, but with great strength of heart. Lately, I find myself thinking more and more about her, remembering all of the good times I had with her, and realizing how much of her life was and is a mystery to me.

But there was a specific hummingbird that became very precious to me during my pregnancy. I called it my hummingbird friend, and during the last month, when I was huge and uncomfortable, it reminded me of my Grandma and helped me think of happier things, rather than just wallow in self-pity. Which is pretty easy to do when you’ve gained almost 50 pounds — blerg!

I actually started writing a bit about my hummingbird friend last year while my Creative Writing class was having journal time. It’s been unedited, but I’ll share some of it here:

_____________________

All month of May, I waited with swollen feet. My poor feet. They looked as though little marshmallows had been toothpicked onto a Dubuque ham, a hedonistic Midwestern potluck delicacy. My belly stuck out with a vengeance. My skin was pulled and stretched over baby-man, marked with angry purple cougar scratches.

I sat everyday, sinking deeper and deeper into the couch, watching blase daytime television or playing Lego games on the X-box. The cats were beside themselves with glee that I was home all day. They showed their excitement mostly through sleeping, although they could also be convinced to stare at me, when the spirit moved them.

At some point everyday, when I knew I needed to move my massive self or risk permanence on the couch, I would waddle down the stairs to the computer. From the computer desk, I could look out at our teeny backyard. Outside walks were out of the question at this point — I could barely make it down to the car without panting and huffing. So these were my windows into life outside: the computer and my miniscule yard.

Admittedly, I spent the time dinking around on Facebook, trying to see the world through profile pictures and status updates. If anything, it made me feel more removed, as thought everyone else had actual events to comment about, real news to report. I was living in my little pregnancy cave, eating and doing awkward prenatal yoga poses, no more aware of the actual world than my baby in his dark, tight, encroaching home. We were both stuck waiting, looking at the shadows in Plato’s cave, not knowing when we’d get to see reality. One of my few pregnancy books said that by this point, you may believe yourself to be the only permanently pregnant woman ever. I was sure of this fact by now.

In my computer funk, I would space out, farther and farther removed. Then, a flick of movement outside. My eyes were coaxed away from the screen.

Another flick. There, by our olive tree, buzzed a hummingbird, left, right, then left again. Looking at me through the window.

________________________

That’s all I have so far. I’m sure I’ll come back to it someday when the ending presents itself. And now that I have this reminder for all time, I’ll remain aware of how much that little hummingbird meant to me, and how fantastic things really can come in incredibly small packages.

P.S. If you are looking for a tattoo artist, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Jason Schroder. He was gentle, just as advertised. He very patiently explained the whole process to me, including the maintenance. And, perhaps most importantly, he is very talented artistically. I am so, so pleased with his design, I can’t say it enough. However many stars there are to give on your ratings scale, I give them all to him!

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