Originally published April 2019
Never has a swamp seemed so romantic, isolating and even violent all at once.
Leave it to men to make something so natural so damn complicated.
In Delia Owen’s debut fictional effort, “Where the Crawdads Sing,“ the male/female relationship is dissected across sibling/parental/partner themes, as our protagonist Kya grows up in the marshlands of 1960s coastal North Carolina.
By the time she’s just 10 years old, Kya’s mother, brother and father have left her to fend on her own — where once was a family, now there is Marsh Girl, a nearly feral child making her home with the herons, mussels and the tide and surviving by the force of sheer will. The only constant in her life besides the sea is a local bait shop owner, Jumpin’, and Tate, one of her brother’s friends that morphs into a first love.
When Tate leaves for college, Kya finds herself alone again, but not completely ready to eschew human contact, which leads to a tulmultuous relationship with the local BMOC, Chase Andrews, a one-time football star and lethario. But like her daddy, brother and Tate, Chase leaves Kya to the marsh and questioning any kind of sense in trusting men.
Oh, Chase. You really shouldn’t go pulling on heartstrings. Jackass.
“Crawdads” employs a narrative that flashes between Kya in her youth and a 1970 murder trial where some townies are hell bent on pinning Chase’s murder on the Marsh Girl. Did she do it? Would she do it? The twist in the end was unexpected, but righteous.
It’s a good read that’ll keep you entertained for a couple of days if you are a fast reader, or a week if you have less time to curl up on the couch. The devil is in the details, and Owens takes enormous care with the natural surroundings. Readers may have to suspend reality just a tiny bit to accept a 10-year-old that can’t read surviving in the wilderness — that said, it’s not unrealistic. Simply a bit more fantastical.