Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! might be one of the best books I’ve ever read. Two things:

I bought this for my Nook but think I’ll go get a paper version, so I can lend it out to every reader I know.

At some point, I’ll read it again and highlight all the bits of language that made me go, “wow.” There were too many to count. Nothing ever felt forced. When I wasn’t reading the book, I was wondering if Karen Russell has just wandered around life writing down every simile that has ever occurred to her, and filing them away for a time when she might need them. I simply can’t imagine the skill (or discipline) required to sit down and write an exciting, plot-driven story while also creating insightful and new descriptive connections on nearly every page. An example I remember, from the beginning of the book:

Mom fell through the last stages of her cancer at a frightening speed. She no longer resembled our mother. Her head got soft and bald like a baby’s head. We had to watch her sink into her own face.

The idea of sinking into your own face is so startling and frank and accurate. Then sometimes she gets lyrical and makes the walls move, like in this li’l sentence from the end of the book:

The wallpaper nudged its quiet spirals upward toward the ceiling fan.

How do you learn to do that? I’d love to know. I have never looked at wallpaper and thought about it as nudging anything anywhere, but now I always will. There were many other examples, but the ones from the beginning and the end were easiest to find.

At some point, I think I’ll come back here and write something less swoony about this book. I think the pacing was uneven and I’m not sure how I felt about the end; I’d love to think more about the debts Russell owes to Katherine Dunn and George Saunders; and I’m sure there are other critical things I will want to say after a little more thought. But, for now, just…awesome.

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