This review of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is for the small percentage of readers who didn’t like it – to let you know you’re not alone.
The longer I have my book blog, the more reticent I am to write negative reviews. For one, I have not done the very hard work of finishing a novel, much less have had one published. Second, in my deep appreciation of the written word, I’ll extend grace to most anything that encourages reading. Often it is books with the popularity of Where the Crawdads Sing that encourages someone to return to reading – and that’s a good thing.
That said, this is one of those times when I feel the world of opinions needs some balance. I did not like Where the Crawdads Sing.
I have written before about the disservice some editors do for their authors by not fixing blatant errors and problems, and Where the Crawdads Sing falls into that category as well. Here are just a few examples that irked me:
- When Kya packs a picnic for Tate early in their relationship, among other things, she packs French bread & cheese, saying it is her favorite picnic snack. Really? A girl who has lived off of grits and mussels – just when and where did she experience French bread? I can promise you Jumpin’ wasn’t selling French bread in the tackle shop. A loaf of Sunbeam – for sure – but no French bread.
- When Kya gives Chase the necklace with the unique shell, she says: “There are many of that genius here, but this particular species usually inhabits regions south of this latitude because these waters are too cool for them.” This is simply not how Kya talks. And before you offer, “Well, she’s been reading text books…” remember that Owens is depicting her as someone who really knows her stuff, and we all know that the better you know a subject, the better your ability to talk about it in your own language.
- When Jodie shows up, Kya tells the story of how he got the scar on his cheek. A good editor would have placed that event earlier in the narrative when Kya talks about her abusive father and then let the scar itself identify the stranger.
It is examples like this last one that are most pervasive in the novel, and are the most egregious. Owens lacks the art of subtle revelation in her narrative. She repeats things over and over as if she needs to remind the reader about the clues she’s leaving.
Similarly, Owens’ nature prose is too heavy handed. I love a beautiful description with a metaphor as much as the next reader, but I also get the parallels between wildlife and human nature – you don’t have to beat me over the head with them. Again, subtly can go a long way. By the way, this is the author’s fault, not that of the editor.
And, I don’t know if that’s she been gone from South Georgia for too long, but I thought her Southern dialect was horrible. As one fellow (Southern) reader said, “It’s insulting.” Well said.
***SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read Where the Crawdads Sing and plan to, you may not want to read any further. ****
The death of Tate’s father had no purpose. Why introduce a character just to kill him off in the last two chapters? If his relationship with Tate was necessary, make it a part of the story when Tate and Kya were first together. It seems this was included solely for the moment when the sheriff comes for him – to make the reader wonder if Tate is being arrested for the murder. When that doesn’t happen but you have what is supposed to be a poignant graveside scene, it falls flat. About the only thing that it does do is cheapen the death of Jumpin’, which really should be tender.
While I didn’t hate the fact that it turns out Kya did murder Chase, I do think the way it was revealed was low-rate and demonstrated the author’s inability to (again) artfully craft a narrative where this bears the weight that it should. As it is, Tate and Kya live happily ever after – her knowing she killed Chase – and Tate finds out after she dies? What’s the point? This feels like an elementary solution.
This review is long enough without me getting into all that is wrong with “Amanda Hamilton” but suffice it to say, I wanted to scream every time one of her poems was dropped into the story and finding out that Kya was the poet didn’t make it any better. (A better “ah-ha” for Amanda Hamilton would have been that she was Kya’s mother – and Kya to have discovered she had this link and shared language with a woman she longed to know.)
With all of this said, here is my one concession: I hold books that have gotten the type of praise that Where the Crawdads Sing to a higher standard than other books. If I had read this without seeing it on every summer reading list I would have likely given it a middle-of-the-road three star rating and moved on. But when I see people falling all over themselves over what at best fair-to-middling writing, I have to speak up. Where the Crawdads Sing isn’t worthy of the hype.
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