This book is like some of those dishes that send a cheftestant home on "Top Chef": Great ingredients, the fish is cooked perfectly, the sauce is interesting, but the whole thing just doesn't come together.
The premise is great: A family has been running a second class alligator show on an island off the ocast of Florida. The family is like a jar of mixed nuts: the mother was an 18 year old runaway who fell in love with an older man and bought into his eccentric lifestyle; the father sees himself as the chief of a tribe of tough-as-nails warriors; the oldest son fancies himself a genius; the oldest daughter is probably schizophrenic; and the youngest daughter is naive (at best).
However, the plot is a mess. The characters take actions that make no sense. The book is an attempt at American magic realism. Now, we can leave the discussion of whether such a genre would ever succeed (is it possible for America to have mystical side? I don't think so), but even if it were possible, this book doesn't have the correct balance of mystical/reality. Instead, there seems to be a lot of coincidences, not magic, moving the story along. For example, the rescue towards the end of the book is completely manufactured, AND you will see the plot twist coming a mile away - as soon as the World of Darkness's new floatplane attraction is described. Also, the end of the book seems completely rushed - the reader will endure pages and pages of descriptive text about a two minute walk through the swamp, but when it comes to wrapping up the story, the author seems to have run out of ink. I don't really understand where they are exactly at the end, or how the characters feel about where they are at the end. While I didn't expect, particularly in this book, to have all my ends tied up, I felt completely cheated by the end of the book. (more on this is SPOILER section below).
What the book does succeed as is a number of excellent short stories surrounded by random plotting - the Dredgeman's Revelation is a great story buried amid the dreck, as is the story of Mamma Weeds.
NOW SPOILER ALERT: DONT' READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU THINK YOU WILL READ THIS BOOK: The thing that bothered me the most about this book, even more than the whole ridiculous Birdman section, was the fact that no one (including the author) seemed horrified by the father's behavior throughout this book. No one seemed to acknowledge that he abandoned his family which led to a series of disasters including attempted suicide, child abduction and rape. I understand that the suthor seemed to want the reader to see that the father was flawed, but that his family loved him anyway. Maybe they would only love him in an attempt to keep what was left of their family together, but at some point, a parent's abdication of his responsibilities reaches a point where they no longer deserve their child's love - certainly that point was reached here. I would compare this to Jeannette Walls' book "The Glass Castle" which asks the question: Is a woman crazy if she still loves the father who pimps her out? Maybe she is not crazy, but then that woman will lose the respect of the reader. So if Ava still loves her father after he left her and sister without food, money or supervision, to be preyed upon by child molesters, can we feel anything but pity for foolish deluded Ava? I don't think this was what the author was aiming for. I think she was aiming for us to leave this book with respect for tough little survivor Ava, and all I feel is pity for this pathetic misguided child.
Up until the ending a wry and darkly funny account of life in a family of alligator wrestlers and carnival hucksters on the fringe of what passes for normal society in swampy Florida - land of reptile farms and bizarre theme parks. Loved the early chapters that set up the central conflicts of the story, but as the three siblings seek their way off the family island the story veers off course and just becomes increasingly depressing. I'm not sure what the point was at the end, and almost felt betrayed on behalf of characters so well fleshed out that they really deserved better from their author. Four stars for a strong start, but three stars overall for the weak finish.
Since this was an NYTimes bestseller perhaps I'm just out of touch...BUT... I was hoping this would be an involving serio-comic tale,instead I wound up with a queasy feeling from reading continuous descriptions of depressing grossness and dysfunction. Characters were muddled and I found them all unsympathetic and rather repulsive. If it was funny I missed it altogether..also missed the point of the whole thing. Disappointed in the authors reluctance/inability to create a satisfying ending for any of her characters (or for the reader!)Glad when it was OVER & it left a bad taste so unpleasant I had to grab something friviolous and light to allieviate my grumpy mood and annoyance at myself for reading this damn thing all the way to then end. I do not recommend this book. There are many many other things to read to interest and uplift the mind and provoke constructive thought/humour/ discussion.
All in all I'd rather clean the cat box than read this book again & wish I had done so in the first place!
Great setting and character development through the first half of the book. Throughout the build up and climax, I suspected the ending to come but hoped it would be something different. The ending was predictable and fell short for all characters. The darkness that plagues the characters is not really resolved or explained by the conclusion of the story.
Could not get into this book at all...despite the hype, I found it boring and tedious...didn't even finish it.