A good book should leave you… slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it. ~William Styron, American novelist
Normally, I’m reluctant to hop on the bandwagon when it comes to books everybody says I must read.
Maybe my taste in reading differs from that of the masses, or maybe I’m just flouting my rebelliousness.
Last week I went to our public library to check out Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens for my mom. When I heard it was “sweeping the nation” in popularity, I had to force myself not to roll my eyes.
Mom finished it with rave reviews and urged me to read “just a few pages.”
Okay, why not?
Where the Crawdads Sing is a coming-of-age tale about a girl abandoned by her family and left on a North Carolina marsh to fend for herself. It’s also the story of two young men drawn into her world and the mystery of what happened to one of them.
Beginning with the 1950s and continuing through the ensuing decades, Crawdads depicts a South segregated by race and social standing, steeped in prejudice and the good ole boy network.
If I’d listened to Mom and read only the first chapter, I’d have tossed it aside. The author didn’t hook me, didn’t give me a character to root for (or worry about).
Still, I kept reading and I’m glad for it.
Owens is an American author and zoologist, who published three bestselling nonfiction books depicting her time as a wildlife scientist in Africa. This is her debut fiction work. If you like description, you’ll love her prose:
A few birds pecked gently between her toes, and she laughed from the tickling until tears streamed down her cheeks, and finally great, ragged sobs erupted from that tight place below her throat. When the carton was empty she didn’t think she could stand the pain, so afraid they would leave her like everybody else. But the gulls squatted on the beach around her and went about their business of preening their gray extended wings. So she sat down too and wished she could gather them up and take them with her to the porch to sleep. She imagined them all packed in her bed, a fluffy bunch of warm, feathered bodies under the covers together.
But I nearly stopped reading when I got to the courtroom scenes. Owens must not have sat through any jury trials; in fact, she must not have had any technical advice in this area at all.
As a working journalist, I covered oodles of trials and can attest to the drama played out. No lawyer or judge would have acted the way Owens had her characters act (John Grisham she’s not!)
But she made up for that failure by drawing in her readers, coaxing them to follow her plotline to its conclusion. Her female lead character is intriguing. Strong, resilient, and clever. The other characters are believeable. The pacing is steady, and short chapters ensure you’ve got a stopping spot if you need one.
In an interview, Ownes, a native Georgian, said it took her nearly a decade to write this book. She began writing from the end and worked backward, weaving the story between past and present. The title, she said, comes from advice her mother gave her when growing up.
I won’t say anymore in case you haven’t read it. The comments on Goodreads are all over the board, from high praise to thumbs-down. Perhaps this is another case where you just have to read the thing for youself to decide.