If you see bumper-to-bumper traffic on Tamiami Trail heading to the Everglades, it's because author Karen Russell has made our mucky, inhabitable frontier seem like a thrilling carnival ride. Her debut novel Swamplandia! follows the adventures of the Bigtree gator-wrestling dynasty. Ava takes an Odyssey-like expedition through the swamp in search of her sister Osceola, who has succumbed to the underworld of her spectral fiancé. Meanwhile, Ava's brother Kiwi confronts the brightly lit hell of the mainland in search of income to save the family business. They brave water-sucking melaleucas, dredgemen ghosts, swooping buzzards, and humidity-induced madness. Russell is pioneering a new genre - Swamp Gothic - in which saw grass and ahingas pulse with something sinister, and we're enamored with the dark ride.
Russell, a Coral Gables Senior High grad, was featured in The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" fiction issue last year.
Sat., Nov. 19, 3:30 p.m., 2011