On page 153 of wildlife scientist Delia Owens’ novel Where the Crawdads Sing, nineteen-year-old Kya Clark—the “Marsh Girl” of a certain section of the Carolina coast—recalls a poem by “a lesser-known poet,” Amanda Hamilton:
Love is a caged beast,
Eating its own flesh.
Love must be free to wander,
To land upon its chosen shore
Bits of Amanda Hamilton’s poetry recur throughout the book; and though the fictitious poet does not play a large part in the story, the six lines just quoted could well stand as the Marsh Girl’s personal manifesto. For Kya Clark’s story is one of isolation, of love frustrated, and of a huge conflict between hoped-for relation and indispensable freedom.
Abandoned by parents and siblings, spurned as “swamp trash” by the larger community, possessed of tenuous alliances with a handful of individuals, Kya raises herself. She marches to her own tune, responds to Nature in all its variety. She collects feathers, shells, leaves, and other wild things; eventually she builds a catalog of her collection. She delves ever deeper into her wetlands environment to go “where the crawdads sing.”
Crawdads (which you may know as crayfish, crawfish, freshwater lobsters, mountain lobsters, mudbugs, or yabbies) do not actually sing. But an imagined place where crawdads do sing is the author’s symbol for mystic union with Nature. The quest for that union turns out to be, after a host of disappointments in her relations with the human race, Kya’s only constant chord of survival energy.
Along the way she learns a great deal, becomes an acknowledged authority on the life of the marsh, and forms romantic relationships with two men (yes, a sort of love triangle)—one of which works out better than the other. However far life takes her, however, it is the quest to go where the crawdads sing that defines her.
Much else in this book will entertain and delight the reader: sudden death, mayhem, police procedures, courtroom drama, and the verses of Amanda Hamilton and others. At its heart is the story of the Marsh Girl, a remarkable woman who remains an enigma to the end. Speaking of which, do make sure you read all the way to the end. Even at that point, you may be surprised.
Larry F. Sommers, Your New Favorite Author
Author of Price of Passage—A Tale of Immigration and Liberation.
Price of Passage
Norwegian Farmers and Fugitive Slaves in Pre-Civil War Illinois
(History is not what you thought!)
That’s a beautiful novel with layers to it. On one level it’s quite simple, but as you say, Larry, there are many things going on that make a person think and try to out-guess the author. The writing at times is so exquisite that it made me smile and yearn to write better myself every day. The novel flows in a way, too, that reflects the water in the Low Country. The author is to be commended for such a good job. Thanks, Larry, for mentioning this novel that I loved as well.
Thanks for the thoughts, Christine.
Timely! I just finished this last night for my book club. I’m forwarding your thoughts to them!
I read it a few months ago because I loved the title. I often pick books based on nothing more. I had such compassion for the Marsh Girl, and was glad she experienced loves in her life along with the tragedy. We are still making “marsh girls” out of people, aren’t we?
Thanks for the comment, Karen. I suppose there’s always a potential for people to become isolated, either through their own bent or from the thoughtlessness or cruelty of others.
Thanks for an insightful review, Larry. I really enjoyed the book. I have spent a lot of time near the salt marshes of South Carolina, and especially liked the way Delia Owens evoked the sounds, sights, and smells of the marsh. Did you see the excellent interview with Owens on CBS Sunday Morning?
Thanks for the comment, Susan. I did not see that interview, but I certainly admire the way she wrote her book.
Here is the interview. At age 70, her first novel topped the NYT best seller. Wow!
Thanks for posting, Susan. That’s a great interview. And she is an inspiration to all of us septuagenarian aspiring novelists. I hope my book can be as good as hers.
I read very little Fiction other than historical fiction but your excellent book review painted a picture both of the environment and the girl struggling through the challenges of life -both self identity and relationships
My father loved to fish growing up in Cedar Rapids I would go with him to seine Crawdads out of Indian Creek to use for bait while fishing in “the slew” behind the Quaker Oats Plant
Thanks for the memories
You’re welcome, JoEllen.