Saturday, December 07, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens

Figuring that all the hype about Where the Crawdads Sing could not possibly be right, I was in no real hurry to read the Delia Owens smash bestseller of late 2018. For a while, the book  seemed to be all that anyone was reading or talking about. It was everywhere. And Crawdads is still so popular today that it’s ranked at number two on the paper’s hardcover bestseller list (December 8, 2019) despite having first hit that list some fifteen months ago. Now that I’ve finally read the novel, I’m wondering what took me so long because it’s almost as good as people have been saying it is. 

Most readers probably already know the basic premise of Where the Crawdads Sing even if they haven’t read it yet:

            The “Marsh Girl” has been living alone in the marshes around Barkley Cove, North Carolina, for years. Kya, deserted one-by-one by every single member of her family, has in fact been living alone in the family shack since she was nine years old. She has attended school for only one day in her entire life, and her survival has largely been possible only because a black family provides her with secondhand clothing and makes sure that she has all the things the marsh cannot provide her. But then in 1969, when Kya is 24 years old, she is charged with the murder of Chase Andrews, a young man she is known to have had a personal relationship with for over a year. Now, the reclusive “Marsh Girl” is fighting for her life in a death penalty trial whose jury is filled with many of the same townspeople who have been ridiculing her for her whole life. She has a good lawyer, but does she have good enough a story to tell the jury?

Delia Owens
Where the Crawdads Sing is, though, much more than its intriguing plotline. Delia Owens creates a marsh setting for her novel that becomes real to readers despite their probable unfamiliarity with such a place in the real world. The tides, the swamp critters, the shack’s isolation, the weather, and the intricate network of coves and inlets that allow Kya so easily to avoid her trackers are as important in making Crawdads unforgettable as the plot itself is. Where the Crawdads Sing begins as a tragic coming-of-age novel, morphs into an intriguing murder mystery, and ends as a rather unlikely courtroom drama. Of the three stages of the novel, the coming-of-age portion is the strongest and the courtroom drama the weakest and least believable. 

Bottom Line: Where the Crawdads Sing may not be a perfect novel, but it is one that I won’t be soon forgetting. Catherine Danielle Clark (Kya) is one of those characters that work their way deep inside a reader’s heart, a character it’s impossible not to pull for and worry about. Kya’s coming-of-age story, hard as it may be to believe if one thinks about it too much, is simply beautiful. The murder mystery itself is well done, offering enough clues to keep the reader guessing away without making it either too hard or too easy to recognize the killer. It is the courtroom portion of the novel that keeps me from rating Crawdads even higher than I do.  I found it too difficult to believe that a capital murder trial, against even this particular defendant, could be built and prosecuted with so little evidence, and I think that killed some of the drama of the situation.  Still, you need to read Where the Crawdads Sing because you are probably going to love it. It’s almost impossible not to. 

12 comments:

  1. I bought this novel when it first came out, but I still haven't read it. I don't know if that's because I'm worried it won't live up to the hype or because I own it so I don't need to rush to read it. One of these days I'll get to it. Glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. It was much better than I expected it would be, Susan. And I'm such a sucker for shiny, new books that I bought the new "Deluxe Edition" last week at Barnes & Noble when it was on sale for Black Friday. It's a real beauty, with color illustrations and high quality paper, and it's even signed by the author.

      Sometimes I buy books more as "objects" than for what's in them. This was one of those times, so I"m relieved that the book is as good as it is.

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  2. I loved the writing. Much more than the mystery, it was the descriptions that engaged me. Jess Kidd, although with a completely different style, is another author whose beautiful prose makes her books a delight--despite the fact that I wish the plots and conclusions were better planned.

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    1. I love authors who are able to create settings so unusual that they become almost a character themselves. The marshes in this one were so engrossing that I found myself wishing during my reading of the last part of the book that Kya would soon be exploring and studying them again. I agree that the mystery itself was not what makes this one special. It may be the hook that grabs most people's attention, but it is that setting that keeps them solidly hooked.

      Thanks for the recommendation of Jess Kidd; I'll take a look at her books.

      Ann Patchett's "State of Wonder" is that kind of novel, too. Much of it takes place in the Amazon jungles and that setting fascinated me.

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  3. You are made of stronger stuff than I. My two friends, sisters in fact, gave me this book, and I gave it back just reading the blurb about it. There are some things I just can't bear. I'm sure it is great, but my heart can't take too much. haha

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    1. It's a pretty inspirational story in some ways, Nan, if you can make it through all of the building tension along the way. :-)

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  4. This was a tough read for me in some ways but, I'm so happy I read it - everyone is talking about it.

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    1. Hard to believe that so many are still talking about it all these months after publication. It really struck a chord with the reading public.

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  5. I've got this one on my shelf, but haven't read it yet. I'm glad to hear it's probably going to be good! I wanted to finish reading the author's nonfiction first- have most of those. Her nonfiction is pretty good so I've been looking forward to this one but curious to see how it compares for me.

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    1. I haven't read her nonfiction but I think her love of nature and the environment shines strongly through in this one, too, so I suspect that you will enjoy it for that reason, if for nothing else. The setting just comes alive for readers who have never set foot in a swam or marsh environment.

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