Where The Crawdads Sing is the story of Kya Clark who raises herself in the North Carolina marshes after being abandoned by her family as a child. Kya is an unforgettable character, a fiercely independent soul and a compelling female protagonist.
‘For years, rumours of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.’
Set over 1950-1970, Where the Crawdads Sing is a coming of age story. It spans across various genres including literary fiction, mystery, romance and historical fiction. The pace of the book is quite steady for a murder mystery, and while the timeline flits back and forth between Kya the child and Kya the woman, the plot unravels at a measured pace.
While I was reading the book, I got a few messages from people who had read it before me. Most of them said that they did not really like it. After reading a few pages, I could see why. It’s not a book everyone will fall in love with. Which is probably exactly why I did. I have a propensity for oddities and eccentricities, things/people/stories that feel a bit odd/off. Kya Clark’s story ticks all those boxes. The pages are filled with a powerful melancholy that sucked me right in.
I found multiple reasons to love the book:
It reminded me of my favourite classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As a born and bred city girl, I like to live a ‘wilder’ life through books that lend itself to that end. WTCS aroused the same delicious feelings TAOHF did – undisturbed nature described in idyllic, poetic prose, vernacular language that made the surreal feel real, children claiming uninhabited lands, adventuring by boat, and following their own rules. DELICIOUS!
It gave isolation a whole new meaning. Reading this book during a global pandemic certainly added to the experience. Firstly, reading the vivid description of the North Carolina marsh from my London apartment was a treat, even when Delia went a bit overboard (she is a wildlife scientist, so go figure). From the depths of lockdown, the freedom of being at one with nature felt enticing. I can see how this might be off-putting for many, the description was certainly of excessive category. But if poetic prose is your thing, you will be delighted. Secondly, isolation and survival are the central theme of the book, casting light on a radical new meaning for ‘social distancing’. Kya will remind you how much you have to be grateful for.
It was a wild escape. I fell in love with reading because books equated to escapism for me. For the longest time, I would read only fiction, mostly mysteries and fantasies – it’s only recently that I expanded my list to include the real world. After reading a lot of contemporary novels and non-fiction over the past few months, WTCS was a breath of fresh air that reminded me why fiction was always my preferred choice. My imagination went into overdrive, which is exactly how I like to relish a book.
The food. I am a foodie and the obsession is at an all time peak during corona times. Kya is quite poor and regularly eats something called ‘grits’. I am fascinated by it and google it and want to make it in my own kitchen. I also yearn for the fruit cobblers mentioned in the book – my office canteen does a fantastic one and I miss it. Not to mention the abundant seafood references! I love it when a book gives me the excuse to whet my obsession with food.
‘She cooked a southern supper as Ma would have: black-eyed peas with red onions, fried ham, cornbread with cracklin’, butter beans cooked in butter and milk. Blackberry cobbler with hard cream with some bourbon he had brought.’
‘She couldn’t read the menu, but he told her most of it, and she ordered fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, white acre peas, and biscuits fluffy as fresh-picked cotton. He had fried shrimp, cheese grits, fried “okree”, and fried green tomatoes. The waitress put a whole dish of butter pats perched on ice cubes and a basket of cornbread and biscuits on their side table, and all the sweet iced tea they could drink.’
‘Maybe it was mean country, but not an inch was lean. Layers of life – squiggly sand crabs, mud-waddling crayfish, waterfowl, fish, shrimp, oysters, fatted deer and plumped geese – were piled on the land or in the water. A man who didn’t mind scrabbling for supper would never starve.’
Overall, this book was a raw, harrowing read. And while it won’t be for everyone, it has already made it to my list of Best Reads of 2020.