|Our alligator understudy: the mighty firebellied "toad."|
The Gator Pit at Night
The excerpt from Swamplandia! that Karen Russell reads aloud in this NPR "Listen to the Story" podcast delivers a mini panorama of humid Floridian hucksterism in less than 7 minutes. It begins:
"Like black silk, the water bunched and wrinkled."
I had to think about that sentence for few seconds, and then it became indelible--the only way to think of creatures (even mothers) swimming under water at night.
You don't get sentences like that every day. There's plenty more texture and dense atmosphere in Swamplandia!, and unless you're a dehumidified minimalist, you'll enjoy the lavish scope of Russell's prose. The same NPR.org page that plays the audio includes the text of a slightly longer chunk of Swamplandia!'s first chapter.
It Came From Miami
For a behind-the-scenes sense of where all this Swamplandia! imagination and language comes from, listen to Russell's interview with Ed Champion on "The Bat Segundo Show" podcast. This podcast begins with the best musical intro I've heard this year: a swiveling, snout-on snippet of the "Wally Gator" cartoon theme music. On a more serious note, Champion is, as ever, scrupulously prepared, and in just over half an hour he and Russell gnash over Swamplandia!'s short-story origin, as well as its allegorical nuances, plot structure, and punctuational exuberance. Right near the end (Minutes 33-36), Russell credits her editor, Jordan Pavlin of Knopf, for helping her to calibrate the narrative hesitancy between reality and fantasy in Swamplandia!, and for helping to "echolocate" how a particular character come across to the reader--what an interesting way to describe the editor's role. (iTunes links: "The Bat Segundo Show" podcast, and the specific episode link for the Karen Russell interview.)