The Short Review: A good slow burn set in a Marsh, this book is great if you like mysteries or nature writing.
The Long Review: Where The Crawdads Sing is being hailed by many as the book of the year. It’s a romance-mystery about a young girl living in a Marsh, written by a nature writer (who happens to be from my home town). It’s been compared to the works of Karen Russell and Barbara Kingsolver, and I haven’t spoken to a person yet who’s hated it. I can definitely see the reasons for the praise, for the author comparisons, and the overall obsession…but for me, it didn’t quite cast the same spell.
The hard part about reading hyped books is that it sets high expectations. While I thought this was a fine book, and by the end, I was glad to have read it, I think hearing all of the comparisons to Karen Russell and Barbara Kingsolver made me a bit disappointed. I don’t think Owens had the same insight as Kingsolver, and no one can spin words into gold the way Karen Russell does. I found myself spending so much of the first hundred pages wondering how this book would’ve been different if written by one of those two. Once I got into the story and stopped comparing it, I was able to better appreciate Owens writing. She sees things about nature that only a person who has spent their lives observing it can bring to the page.
The mystery of the book was interesting, and the format of how the story unfolded actually reminded me of Gone Girl. Where The Crawdads Sing has two timelines; one starts at the death of a young man going forward, and the other starts with the young girl (Kya) growing up in the marsh, leading up to the death of the young man. Gone Girl is similar in that one timeline follows the husband from the day his wife goes missing, and the other timeline follows the wife from the day they met up until she goes missing. This structure works well when revealing a mystery, but I did find that the cops in Crawdads weren’t all that intelligent and in the end, I didn’t find the central mystery as captivating. The character dynamics were interesting enough to keep me invested more than the suspense.
Speaking of the characters, I did find most everyone interesting and well developed. I’m not sure I buy Kya becoming a polymath with such limited resources, but I went along with it. She develops a relationship with a boy who taught her how to read, and I found the relationship sweet and complicated in a way that felt honest. I was also glad that Owens didn’t shy away from the sexual aspects of this story. Not to give spoilers, but there are intimate scenes.
The ending I thought tied everything up nicely, without feeling like a cheap cop out. I bit my nails in concern, shed a tear or two; the last few pages were nice and emotional. I definitely recommend this book to the general reader and I think they’d love it, but I think it works best if there’s not too much buzz around it.
Anyway, those were my (hopefully) spoiler free thoughts on this book. I read this for a buddy read with my friend Claire (@badgalreading on Instagram), and I’m writing this before we talk about it. Who knows, maybe she’ll change my mind. I think she enjoyed it a great deal, at least from what I saw from her casual updates. If you’ve read it, tell me your thoughts! and stay tuned for my next review, later this week :)
UPDATE: As I mentioned above, I read this with Claire and I wanted to give you guys a quick update on my thoughts after the discussion. First of all, if you want to discuss it with someone, she had so many great thoughts and our conversation was amazing. I won’t go into the spoiler-discussion we had, but I will say that I had questions about the way certain characters were handled, what she thought of the narrative structure and the dialogue. Hearing her perspective helped me better appreciate certain aspects of the story. I’m sure I sound very critical of this book, but I did enjoy it and Claire loved it. After our discussion, I definitely think it has a lot that would be great for a book club discussion and be intriguing enough that everyone could stay invested in the story.