Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens,
G.P. Putnam' Sons, 2018
First, let me say I enjoyed reading this book, even though the premise is unbelievable. In the 1960’s could a six year old, abandoned by her family figure out how to survive in the swampy marshland of North Carolina? Probably not. However the beautiful, poetic descriptions of the marsh and the nature there is so beautiful, I wanted to keep reading about the setting.
After a while, I start to like the spunky, wily, reclusive girl, Kya, but I still can’t believe she’s finding enough to eat in the isolated marsh where her family formally occupied a shack. It would have taken a person with some stamina and body strength to maintain livability of the dwelling and find enough food to keep themselves healthy enough to do it. So, I had to approach the story as a fantasy of a life, where the plants, insects, and birds were the most interesting characters. These descriptions were captivating and eventually the birds and the bees were linked to Kya, her social structure, and her life in the marsh.
I would recommend Where the Crawdads Sing for the setting alone. It’s beautifully and accurately described. The genre is difficult to determine. It’s a murder mystery, love story, nature book. The main character does go through some challenges which keep it interesting, but still not believable for me. The girl goes to school one day and has no friends or stomach for it, so she never returns. Therefore she’s a young teen before someone ever takes the time to teach her to read. That and the game her tutor plays with her on the feather stump add to the fantastical feeling of the story.
The tale is told from Kya’s point of view, but there are many scenes where the reader is privy to the thoughts of others. The descriptions of nature carried me through the first part of the book, but the second part was less entertaining because there was a murder trial, which also didn’t seem believable. It’s a stretch to accept that much of the things that happen in this book are possible. However it’s an extreme example of bullying and ostracizing of a poor child living outside of an accepted social structure, and it brings up exaggerated examples of what could occur.
I loved the fact that Kya turned out to be a renowned author of nature books about various aspects of the marsh: shells, grasses, birds, mushrooms, etc. However, the way this happened was also unbelievable. Maybe if her childhood had been more realistic, I could have wrapped my head around this marsh child thriving and evolving as a well-known illustrator and author. However, I was happy that she did. It was some vindication for her treatment by the community. But, there was still a wildness about her, a relationship with insects and nature, a natural response only she would understand. In the end, her survival in the marsh and her observances framed every decision she ever made and that unbelievable childhood had to have occurred.
Part of the magic of this novel is entering that alternate natural world where human mores, the made-up part of our world, are cast aside, no longer applicable. We must accept that when you enter the marsh, you enter Kya’s world, and anything can happen. She’ll take you there, to the parallel universe that exists as we go about our business, not paying attention. It’s genius, and in nature, there is justice.