SPOILER ALERT! I’m going to tell you the ending, so don’t read this post if you want to read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.
First off, this book is supposed to be really, really good. It was on the New York Times bestseller list and was recommended to me by pretty much everyone, including Reese Witherspoon. Usually, I don’t put much stock in what celebrities say or do, but my mother-in-law let me borrow the book, so it’s not like I had to pay for it or even check it out of the library. Plus, it’s a book, and I like books, so I read it.
Initially, I enjoyed the book. It’s about a girl (Kya, short for Catherine) living in the North Carolina marsh during the 1950s and 60s. She is abandoned by her parents and siblings and has to learn to survive on her own. She gets involved with two men over the years, Tate (the good guy) and Chase (the bad guy). Tate teaches her how to read, and using her newfound knowledge, she proceeds to become a bestselling author of nonfiction books about the marsh and its wildlife. Chase is there for her after Tate leaves, and he becomes her best friend, but he is never faithful to her and leaves her upon getting engaged to a girl from town. The conflict in the book arises when Chase is found dead, and Kya ends up as the main suspect and goes on trial for his murder.
This book doesn’t seem to know what genre it wants to be in when it grows up. Is it a murder mystery? A literary novel? A romance? Historical fiction? It has hints of all four. The author does a wonderful job describing the setting and bringing the characters to life. The pacing of the story isn’t too fast or too slow, and the timeline alternates between Kya’s life in the past (1950s and 60s) and Chase’s body being found (in the early 1970s).
I never thought of Kya as an unreliable narrator, probably because the story was told in third person, but I feel as though the author fooled me into liking her and sympathizing with her when the ending proved that she was not likable or sympathetic. You see, it turned out that she did in fact kill Chase. We only find this out in the last page or so of the book, so there’s not much time to rethink everything before the book ends, but there is enough time to feel cheated. I rooted for this character all the way through, and it turns out she’s not the fairy-tale princess in the marsh that we all thought she was???
Most of it, I suspect, was because of the author’s seeming prejudice against men. Threaded through the book were observations of how, in nature, the female ends up killing the male and the male is only looking to reproduce. The larger males with the deeper voices get the females, and lesser males use other, more deceitful tactics. So human males are little more than animals. Chase wasn’t a terrible person; he had some vices, and he came to mess with Kya when he was drunk and almost took advantage of her, but I don’t think it was a reason to kill him. I think the author was trying to relay the fact that Kya was very in tune with nature, and she simply defended herself as a female animal would do in nature. OK, I get it… but that doesn’t make me like the book.
If you like strong settings and are a bit of a feminist, you will like this one, but if you want a more realistic plot, look elsewhere.