Out of step with the Crawdads

It’s very easy to feel ‘wrong’ on the internet. To feel too old, too cross, not cross enough, too antisocial, too behind the curve, too behind the times, too naive.

I use social media to keep up, to be informed and entertained. I look at pretty pictures and read articles. Facebook for family and friends; twitter for politics, news and #broochwars/ @TheMERL/ high drama; Instagram for house renovations and decor, beaches and cute puppies. Serendipity. I get to choose what I engage with and what I let wash over me, whether I agree or not. How I react depends entirely on my mood. Generally, it’s all about me and the pups. But, even within my fluffy echo chamber, I notice when I’m out of synch with the majority of other opinions.

Clearly, social media can be a nasty place. One doesn’t have to be in the public eye to attract controversy or threats. Those who continue to take part in public service despite such horrors have strength that I don’t. That’s not my experience. Instead, I’m disagreeing in the world of bookclubbers. Yes, the folk who read books and chat about them. Who knew I could be annoyed by fellow book lovers?

I read a lot. I’m happy to share thoughts, recommendations, and consider other interpretations. Usually. I hated The Kite Runner while others raved about it, but that was before bookclubs could tell me multiple times a day how amazing it was. Many times, every day.

The book of the moment is Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.

There’s a lot to like about this book. Long, descriptive, nature writing takes a while to get used to, but is appropriate for the piece. Kya, the main character, suffers loss after loss, growing up alone and almost feral in the coastal marshes of North Carolina. She is let down time after time by those she loves or who have a responsibility to her. She is the ‘Marsh Girl’, an ‘other’, abandoned by most. I was gripped and read on with a lump in my throat.

But the book is trying to do too much. It’s being promoted as ‘a murder mystery, a coming of age narrative, and a celebration of nature’ and it’s failure to succeed at all three mars the whole experience. *spoilers ahead*

The murder mystery is what loses the book. It’s like it got grafted on in the editing process to add drama or structure. As if someone said, “Crime sells – could you kill off a horrible character?” The trial scenes are sparsely written, presumably to suggest that Kya has shut down with trauma or shock, but after the trial things just return to normal, no adjusting, no relief, no recovery. We stop knowing Kya before their trial and never regain that knowledge. I stopped caring, because it felt like the author had. I’d even accept that meant that Kya herself was deeply secretive and that nobody knew the truth of things (both true in context), but that still doesn’t make the story work.

The big problem is that about 100 pages before the end of the book, the truth becomes obvious to the reader. Tate, the clever, thoughtful one, should have known. I was looking forward to discovering how the main characters dealt with this knowledge as they made their lives together. But no. Nothing. Tate discovers the truth on the last page. Literally, the last page. I nearly threw the book across the room in frustration. Where I was expecting shared understanding and deep growth I got a ‘shock’ discovery and then nothing. Ah well, never mind. The end.

Perhaps that’s the point. Tate never really knew or understood Kya as well as he thought he did. She loved him and relied upon him anyway. She survived her whole life without anyone truly understanding her life, her decisions. Is that another betrayal? Is Kya still alone and isolated despite being apparently happy, settled and well off? Those are the issues that could have been explored had Tate been a reflective sort or if Kya had warranted any more thought. But the demands of the murder mystery plot seemed to take over the word count, leaving no room for the characters which drew us there in the first place.

There are many, many examples of excellent crime fiction exploring characters and issues alongside plot. Owens has not produced good crime fiction. Less reliance on the murder as plot device could have produced an interesting novel. Instead, I feel cheated and cross.

Not that anyone agrees with me. The book is selling loads and presumably Ms Owens is doing ok. Internet bookclubbers love it. I’m out of step again.

4 thoughts on “Out of step with the Crawdads

  1. Ah, Fiona, I loved it. In thinking about it after reading your review, however, I guess it’s because our expectations for the book were different. Agreed, the mystery wasn’t particularly useful, but my focus wasn’t there anyway. I was much more interested in Kya, her survival instinct, her fortitude and independence, her interaction (or lack thereof) with the other characters, and her talents. I also was invested in that place she called home. I could almost smell the marsh!

    All of that said, I enjoyed your review. Your arguments for being out of step make perfect sense to me, and I applaud that you had the courage to go against the flow and say so! Well argued!

    1. Thanks, Karen. I’d have enjoyed it so much more without the mystery aspect, and I’m very happy with crime fiction 🙂 It seemed like a distraction from the good stuff!

  2. I loved your take on not just the book itself, but the world of criticism. I don’t care too much about written reviews, but I respond to personal recommendations. My aunt, a retired English professor, is the one who recommended “Crawdads” and I loved every word. My aunt is 85 and my 23-years old granddaughter called me this week to ask if I’d read it. She was bubbling over with enthusiasm. LOL! At the same time, however, I have walked through our local independent bookstore with friends where we go up and down the aisles disagreeing over the merits of both authors and specific titles. It’s all good.

    I enjoy a book lover’s podcast and sometimes I’ll be talking back to the moderator in total disagreement with her impressions. It happens! From time to time share what you’re reading and enjoying. I would love to know! 🙂

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