Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I’m going to voice a wildly unpopular opinion: I did not like this book and cannot understand the hype. I would give it a 2.5 because the nature writing was strong and beautifully captured the landscape of coastal North Carolina. Not everyone enjoys descriptive prose, but it was the best part of the book for me. It makes sense that the author, Delia Owens, is an acclaimed nature writer. Her first work of fiction, however, left much to be desired. The stilted, unnatural dialogue, lack of character development, and predictability of the plot were some of its biggest flaws.
This novel requires the reader to wholeheartedly suspend disbelief. Nothing about the story is plausible. It is centered around the life of Kya Clark, locally known as the “Marsh Girl.” She is a victim of extreme poverty, abuse, and abandonment. Despite attending school for only one day, she manages to overcome all of these obstacles to achieve a level of academic success and sophistication that is not only unrealistic, but borders on ridiculous.
The book is structured like a romantic murder mystery and is set mainly in two time periods. It opens with the discovery of a body in the late 1960’s. Chase Andrews, a well liked resident of Barkley Cove, has fallen- or been pushed- from a tower. The sheriff suspects foul play and a murder investigation ensues. Kya, a former lover of Chase’s, is the prime suspect. The reader is led to believe that prejudice motivates the narrow minded townspeople as they seek justice for one of their own.
That might be potentially interesting if you cared for any of the characters. I didn’t warm to them because they were all so one-dimensional. I took particular issue with the book’s only black characters Jumpin’ and Mabel. Even their names made me cringe.
How many more Southern novels written by white authors will feature Numinous Negroes? Jumpin’ and Mabel’s sole purpose was to help Kya survive, while also setting our protagonist apart from her white counterparts who were blatantly racist. Readers are supposed to like Kya more because she’s open minded enough to embrace the saintly black folks. The racial stereotypes and flippant mention of racism did nothing to further the conversation on this serious issue in the United States.
“Even 150 years after slavery has ended, white people still feel more comfortable with a black person if they don’t have to recognize their full humanity,” Jonathan Braylock, an actor and one of the co-hosts of the “Black Men Can’t Jump (In Hollywood)” podcast, told NBC News. “This is why films that deal with slavery or films that have a magical negro are the most rewarded by prestigious institutions. They only explore the outer edges of the black experience and refuse to recognize that being black is normal.
Hollywood has a long history of portraying people of color as preternaturally wise or exoticized figures whose only function is to assuage white guilt or make pithy statements about our collective humanity, but in the last few decades there appears to have been an uptick in these sorts of films.
“Audiences will always go and see what is familiar. Since so many white people do not truly know black families, their only experience of black people is through movies,” said Braylock. “So if your experience of a black man is Michael Clark Duncan in ‘The Green Mile,’ it makes you feel good about yourself for liking black people, even if it’s a problematic stereotype. I mean, if I’m on a highway and the only thing I see to eat is McDonalds … hell, I will eat that before Joe Blow’s Burger Shack any day because I know what I’m getting when I roll up on those golden arches.”The ‘Magical Negro’ Trope Makes a Comeback in Two New Movies
The Magical Negro Trope is used just as frequently in literature as it is in films. Southern novels written in recent years such as The Help by Kathryn Stockett or The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd are prime examples. I’m fed up with the limiting portrayal of black people on both the page and big screen.
Overall I would not recommend Where the Crawdads Sing. There are so many good books out there. Don’t waste your time on this one!