As it turns out, being even more socially isolated than I normally am reminded me that I am actually capable of reading actual books and not just deeply depressing news articles or finding things I want and don’t need from Buzzfeed listicles. Who knew?
So, upon the recommendation of one of my best friends, I bought “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens – the real book, partly because I’m a bougie bitch who likes to read off of paper pages and not blue-lit screens, but also because, inexplicably, the physical book was decidedly less expensive than an e-book. Suffice to say, I never expected to live in a world where something that required actual printed materials and takes up warehouse space and must be shipped costs LESS than something that is entirely digital, but here we are.
Anyway, on to the actual book. I don’t know that I can say I’ve ever read a book quite like this. It’s parts historical fiction, coming of age story, and murder mystery with ecology and biology factoids and copious poetry sprinkled in. It feels very much like someone wanted to mash up the writing styles of David Baldacci, Mark Twain, and Harper Lee, but add their own “secret blend of 11 herbs and spices” called science factoids and poetry. I did not realize until I had the book physically in my hands, and only thanks to the dust cover, that apparently this is a book from “Reese’s Book Club” – I am assuming this means Reese Witherspoon? Anyway, that would explain how and why this book had well over 45,000 Amazon reviews. So my two cents is clearly needed, no?
- Jumping timelines. This story crosses decades frequently; years are entirely left out (though upon reading about the main character, Kya, you can understand why). I actually really like the idea of doing this, though I don’t always love exactly how it’s done in this particular book. I didn’t find it distracting personally, but I could see how someone would.
- Potentially jarring dialogue. Anyone who wasn’t raised in or around the South, specifically the mid-Atlantic, or isn’t a big fan of Mark Twain, may find the dialogue very grating. It’s a lot of “sho’ was the finest shoes I ever saw” type of dialogue that may take some getting used to and some might even find themselves frustrated trying to “translate” it, or put-off by what seems like an overdone cliche (but from my limited knowledge of the time period and my stronger knowledge of that specific area, I suspect that dialogue isn’t too far off from what it would have been at the time for the characters involved, potentially minus some perhaps inaccurate colloquialisms, like fireflies versus “lightnin’ bugs”).
- Character development. There aren’t many characters that we “need” to get to know throughout the story, but despite the 350+ pages in this book, we really only ever get to know each character on a pretty surface level. The only exception being Kya as the main character, whom we get to understand a bit more, though it’d be concerning if we never got to know any of the internal workings of a main character in a book that follows decades of their life. I digress. On the one hand, it’s understandable given the whole plot of the book that Kya, who is – by design – an outsider, doesn’t know much about anyone, but the other characters that we get to know anything tangible about fall into their archetypes exactly as you’d expect. “Formulaic” is a descriptor you might not hear any arguments against. No new tropes here.
- The science. If you like nature and ecology in general and birds specifically, you’ll likely enjoy how frequently they appear throughout the story. An abiding love of these things is one of the major aspects of Kya’s character/personality/development.
- The poetry. There’s probably at least a dozen references to song lyrics and poems throughout the book. To some degree, it eventually makes sense why (won’t give a spoiler on that except to say SPOILER ALERT), but if you couldn’t stomach Frost in school, well, you probably won’t like this any better. But also shame on you. Because Frost is sensational. (… just to be clear no Frost poetry is in the book; just poetry with similar thematics)
- Suspended disbelief. Alright, OBVIOUSLY, this book is a work of fiction, BUT chances are a lot of people reading it will find at least one instance in which they are unwilling or unable to suspend their disbelief. Maybe it’s about Kya’s entire background; maybe it’s about what she ends up doing with her life; maybe it’s about the parts of the book that surround the murder and resulting trial. But suffice to say, plenty portions of this book require the reader to suspend their disbelief, though not more than plenty of other pop culture shows, movies, or books do. Personally, I find it harder to suspend my disbelief in things that are “historical” since history, even in fiction, requires some more adherence to the parameters of “what actually happened” (and I don’t just mean from the white man’s perspective – because fuck that) and what was really possible or even in existence at the time. But that’s just me.
- The flow of the story. Kind of tying back to the first point about jumping timelines, I daresay if there is something people won’t like about this book it’s the flow (part of which is the timelines) in the sense that it is a) really slow going for the first part (and unless you really like her writing style – which admittedly I did – you might find it difficult to want to keep reading), b) jumps around, as mentioned, and, c) is a little bizarrely broken into two “parts” (I guess to make clear to the reader that “we’re staying in this decade now”?)
- The actual plot. I could understand (and to some degree agree) with claims that this book has a kind of vague plot that could have been developed in a stronger or different way. The slowness of much of the book doesn’t help that case, but, honestly, MOST stories (whether book, TV, or movie) don’t have the greatest plots – so this is no worse or more far-fetched or underdeveloped than most other popular fiction in my personal experience. Just don’t be expecting Agatha Christie. You’re not getting Agatha Christie.
- The ending. Who doesn’t care how a story ends?! Without directly spoiling the ending, I would say the ending is a bit bizarre (just in what it is, not what it contains, if that makes sense) in that if felt like a forced wrap-up, the vast majority of which honestly wasn’t needed. There is a means to an end, but the path to get there… well, not my favorite but not the worst ever, either. I’d say it falls into the category “if you’re going to bother to do it, don’t half-ass it” – it felt like a half-assed after-thought, and a quick “oh, fuck, I should probably actually let them know XYZ” as opposed to “this was my plan all along.” It tries to be clever, and to a degree is and has a beautiful element to do that, but there was a lot of unmet potential in that ending.
- And, finally, Jade Attempts to Write an Actual Book Summary in 100 Words or Less: Set across multiple decades, this story follows the coming of age of the abused and isolated main character – Kya. It captures her volatile family life, her endless thirst for knowledge, and her unique experiences with bouts of companionship among a lifetime of loneliness and heartache. The suspected murder of the town golden boy sets the stage for the reader to get glimpses of outsider Kya’s interactions and connections to various members of a community that has always shunned and shamed her, and her trial and tribulations on the rough roads of adulthood, relationships, and self-sustainment.
(It’s 95 words – on the first try?! GO ME – unless you count “self-sustainment” as two words because you don’t understand how hyphens work. Punks.)
Overall rating: 3.5/5 Stars: NEEDS MORE COWBELL (and by cowbell I mean plot development) but otherwise a worthwhile read if you appreciate art, nature, and science.