If you see bumper-to-bumper traffic on Tamiami Trail heading to the Everglades, its because author Karen Russell has made our mucky, inhabitable frontier seem like a thrilling carnival ride. Her debut novel Swamplandia! follows the Bigtree gator-wrestling dynasty in a mythic version of the river of grass. Orphaned by cancer and debt, the three Bigtree children brave water-sucking melaleucas, dredgemen ghosts, swooping buzzards, and humidity-induced madness. The youngest, Ava, begins an Odyssey-like expedition through the swamp in search of her sister Ossie, who has succumbed to the underworld of her spectral fiancé. Think Madelinemeets the swamp if the segment were written by Southern Gothic queen Flannery OConner. Meanwhile, Avas brother Kiwi confronts the brightly lit hell of the mainland in search of income to save the family business a once-popular gator show. Russell, a Coral Gables Senior High grad, was featured in The New Yorkers 20 Under 40 fiction issue.
Thu., Feb. 24, 8 p.m., 2011