At Christmas, my sister sent me a novel to read. The title was “Where the Crawdads Sing” and it was written by Delia Owens. It takes place along the coast of North Carolina. The novel tells the story of Kya, a girl who was abandoned in the marsh by her mother, her siblings and finally by her father when she was still only a small child. “Jumpin”, an old Black man running a small store helps her.
The unusual strength of this novel is that we learn to discover the beauty, mystery and interior life of the plants and animals of the marsh through Kya’s eyes as she fends for herself to survive there alone. The author describes Kya’s resilience and deep isolation leading to severe and crippling loneliness in a sensitive and credible manner. At the same time the author describes the prejudice and negative judgments that the local people demonstrate towards her. With the help of one childhood friend, Tate, Kya learns to read and to express herself and her scientific curiosity in paintings.
While the novel beautifully describes life in the marsh and almost becomes an ode to its natural preciousness, it also portrays the harshness of a life of poverty on the edges of society with an acuity similar to that of Barbara Kingsolver and Marilynne Robinson.
However while I found the characters credible and varied, I felt that they were somehow more caricatures than real people. In English literature, the novels “Middlemarch” and “the Portrait of a Lady”, portray loneliness among a variety of real characters to the most depth. In this sense prize-winning modern novels, like “Where the Crawdads Sing”, pale in comparison.
The novel could open a reflection on the more general theme of abandonment of remote rural farmers by a technologically connected society that is no longer human. I still remember visiting former Cambodian soldiers in remote rural areas who had suffered mine injuries and were disabled. While some flourished with the love of their family or spouse to envelop them, some were abandoned to survive on their own. I still remember one man, a double amputee, sitting on his remote shack on stilts breaking down in tears as he described how his wife had abandoned him and left him all alone.