Swamplandia is the story of a family on the verge of failure, and the various ways that collapse comes to pass after Hilola Bigtree, mother, wife and celebrated alligator wrestler, dies suddenly. It's the story of a family struggling in uncertain economic times, being squeezed out by a corporate theme park, and the various ways Chief Bigtree and his three children, Kiwi, Osceola and Ava try to cope.
This makes it sound too straightforward. This is a marvellously twisty book, with delves almost into magical realism, which creates the world of the swamps, Swamplandia, The World of Darkness (the big theme park) and the lifesucking suburbs of nearby Loomis vividly.
The Chief disappears to help the family out (and, we eventually discover, the family may have been on the verge of collapse even longer than anyone knew, but Chief and Hilola had kept the mythology of self-sufficient alligator wrestlers alive for themselves and their children through years of tough times.) Kiwi leaves to work at the World of Darkness, hoping to send money home, and prove his genius. Osceola dives into spiritualism, and attracts a spirit boyfriend. Ava, 13, is determined to take up her mother's mantle and save the family, and takes a journey into the Everglades that ends in horror that haunts all of those scenes and seems to draw inevitably closer.
There are no punches pulled in Swamplandia! No easy answers. And yet, lots of hope and love. I thoroughly enjoyed it.