Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Crawdads.pngI resisted reading this for a long time because I didn’t like the title; it felt just slightly too flowery, conspicuously written, advertising a kind of self-aware beauty that tends to turn me off. And the book’s flaw, really, is just that–the title phrase is repeated in places where it seems calculated to be resonant without actually accomplishing that (including the last line).

But that is my only serious complaint. There are points at which I had to agree to read this as not necessarily entirely realistic, but it really was captivating, in at least three distinct ways. First, there’s the survival story–a little girl abandoned, surviving, avoiding authorities who feel like threats. Then there’s the psychology of the girl-becoming-woman, trying to understand the feelings she has, love, sex, abandonment, and how all that relates to the natural world she’s so immersed in. And then there’s the whole third layer, the murder mystery (complete with trial) that is, cleverly, I think, introduced early on, even though it happens later, using dated chapters.

The book also manages to depict a sort of timeless existence in the natural world while also introducing elements–and problems–of modern civilization in a way that worked for me. We get a lot of things that are primal and eternal, but we also get glimpses of the mother’s separate life and psychiatric issues, the town’s deep racism and classism, and rape culture, among other things. Not to mention issues surrounding the justice system.

On the whole, at times this story of Miss Catherine Danielle Clark, or Kya, at times risked veering into the sentimental, and the way the novel chose to represent the speech of these southern people is maybe at times a bit too much (it’s nice to have the flavor but a lighter touch would do), none of that detracted much from an engrossing read.

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