Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
I wanted to love this book. It came highly recommended by people I respect and was a number one New York Times bestseller. Alas, no.
The author uses omniscient narration which can devolve into head hopping, and there is some of that. Reading a scene with Kya and Tate, the reader is back and forth between what she is feeling and what he is thinking. It is jarring and pushed me out of the narrative. I read to experience what the characters experience, but that doesn’t work when the point of view changes constantly. Owens should have stuck to a POV for at least each chapter.
Using omni went too far when the reader learns what happened to Tate in a manner that Kya or nobody else could know. It also broke my suspension of disbelief in that I don’t think a man in love would think or act that way. It ruined that line for me and made me see the author plotting the book rather than characters living a story.
At that point I started looking for faults and found many. The dialog does not feel real; it has a stilted affectation. The sheriff and his deputy talking was to let the reader know about the gossip mill, not a conversation that felt real. How quickly Kya learned to read at age 14 or so didn’t feel true. Her knowledge gained without a library was unbelievable. And the final resolution took too much coincident luck to be credible.
But I spoke to other readers who said they had put aside these faults and had read the story as a fantasy. That might have worked. If the author had let me know not to take this story too literally, but to accept the stretches, I might have enjoyed it more. In magical realism, we accept these things and that might have worked here.
My final knock on the novel is the distance the reader feels to the characters in ‘Crawdads’. A novel is unique in the storytelling medium by being able to immerse the reader into the world, thoughts and feelings of the characters. Well done, the reader ‘experiences the story’ with the characters. We fall in love. We learn to read. We experience the abandonment. Feel the pain and the joys. But Owens doesn’t let us get that close to Kya or any characters. They are on a stage or a screen and we are watching. We can feel for them, but we can’t know them and we can’t feel with them. We empathize, but we don’t experience. And that is a sad miss.
January 22, 2021
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