Where the Crawdads Sing
|Publisher||G. P. Putnam's Sons|
|14 August 2018|
Where the Crawdads Sing is a 2018 novel by American author Delia Owens. It has topped The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2019 and The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers of 2020 for a combined 32 non-consecutive weeks. As of late January 2021, the book has spent 124 weeks on the best seller list. The story follows two timelines that slowly intertwine. The first timeline describes the life and adventures of a young girl named Kya as she grows up isolated in the marsh of North Carolina from 1952–1969. The second timeline follows a murder investigation of Chase Andrews, a local celebrity of Barkley Cove, a fictional coastal town of North Carolina. The book was selected for Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Book Club in September 2018 and for Barnes & Noble's Best Books of 2018. By December 2019, the book has sold over 4.5 million copies, and it has sold more print copies in 2019 than any other adult title, fiction or non-fiction. It was also No. 1 for 2019 on Amazon.com’s list of Most Sold Books in fiction. In late December 2020, the New York Times listed it as the #6 hardcover bestseller that year.
Part I – The Marsh
In 1952, six-year-old Catherine Danielle Clark (nicknamed "Kya") watches her mother abandon her and her family. While Kya waits in vain for her mother's return, she witnesses her older siblings, Missy, Murph, Mandy, and eventually Jodie, all leave as well, due to their father's drinking and physical abuse.
After she is left alone with her father, he temporarily stops drinking and teaches her to fish and gives her his knapsack to hold her collections of shells and feathers. Unable to read or write, Kya relies on painting with her mother's old watercolors the birds or shores where she found the items.
One day Kya finds a letter in the mailbox. She recognizes it as having been sent from her mother, and she leaves it on the table for her father to find. When he reads the letter, he becomes infuriated and burns the letter as well as most of her mother's wardrobe and canvases. He returns to drinking and takes long, frequent trips away to gamble. Eventually, he does not return at all, and Kya assumes he is dead, making him the last of the family to leave her alone in the marsh. Without money and family, she learns self-reliance, including gardening and trading fresh mussels and smoked-fish for money and gas from Jumpin', a black man who owns a gasoline station for boats. Jumpin' and his wife Mabel become lifelong good friends to Kya, and Mabel is enlisted to collect donated clothing to fit her.
As Kya grows up, she faces prejudice from the townspeople of Barkley Cove, NC, who nickname her "The Marsh Girl". She is laughed at by the schoolchildren the only day she goes to school and is called "nasty" and "filthy" by the pastor's wife. However, she becomes friendly with Tate Walker, an old friend of Jodie's who sometimes fishes in the marsh. When Kya gets lost one day, Tate leads her home in his boat. Years later, he leaves her feathers from rare birds, then teaches her how to read and write. The two form a romantic relationship until Tate leaves for college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He promises to return, yet later realizes Kya cannot live in his more civilized world because of how wild and independent she is, and leaves her without saying goodbye.
Part II – The Swamp
It's 1965 and Kya is 19. Chase Andrews, Barkley Cove's star quarterback and playboy, invites her to a picnic, during which he tries to have sex with her. He later apologizes, but the two form a romantic relationship. He shows her an abandoned fire tower, and she gives him a necklace of a shell he found during their picnic, strung on a rawhide string. Despite her suspicions, she believes Chase's promises of marriage and consummates their relationship in a cheap motel room in Asheville, NC. After shopping for groceries one day, she reads in the newspaper of Chase's engagement to another woman, and realizes his promises of marriage were a ruse for sex. She then ends their relationship.
Tate, having graduated from college, visits Kya and attempts to apologize for having left her and confesses his love for her. Still hurt from the betrayal, she rejects him. Despite this, she allows him inside her shack, and he is impressed by her expanded collection of seashells. He urges her to publish a reference book on seashells, and she does so in 1968 at age 22 under her full name. The book on shells is followed by one on seabirds. With the royalties that have been coming in, Kya hires a "fix-it man", who installs running water, a water heater, tub, sink, flush toilet and kitchen cabinets. She orders furniture and bedding from Sears Roebuck. The same year, Jodie, now in the Army, also returns in Kya's life, expressing regret he left her alone and breaking the news their mother had suffered from mental illness and of her death from leukemia two years prior. Kya forgives her mother for leaving, but still cannot understand why she never returned. After advising Kya to give Tate a second chance, Jodie sets off for Georgia, gifting Kya a note with his phone number and address - her first connection to a family member in years.
Some time later, while relaxing on a cove, Kya is confronted by Chase. After an argument ensues, Chase attacks Kya, beating her and attempting to rape her. She fends him off and escapes, and the encounter is witnessed by two men nearby. Back at her shack, Kya fears that reporting the assault would be futile as the town would blame her for "actin' the ho". The next week, she witnesses Chase boating up to her shack and manages to hide out until he leaves. Remembering her father's abuse, Kya fears retaliation from Chase, knowing "these men had to have the last punch".
Kya is offered a chance to meet her publisher in Greenville, North Carolina. While she is away, Chase is found dead beneath the fire tower on the morning of October 30, 1969. The sheriff, Ed Jackson, believes it to be a murder on the basis of there being no tracks or fingerprints, including Chase's, around the tower. Ed speaks with a couple of sources and receives conflicting statements. He learns the shell necklace Kya gave to Chase was missing when his body was found, even though he wore it the night before. Kya was seen leaving Barkley Cove before the murder, then returning the day after, yet was also observed speeding her boat toward the tower the night Chase died. There also were red wool fibers on Chase's jacket that belonged to a hat of Kya's. Convinced she is the culprit responsible for Chase's murder, Ed traps Kya near Jumpin's wharf and jails her without bail for two months.
At Kya's trial in 1970, contradictory testimony is given. Kya's lawyer, Tom Milton, debunks the prosecutor's arguments on the basis there was no concrete evidence to convict Kya. The jury finds her not guilty. Kya returns home and reconciles with Tate. They live together in her shack until Kya, at age 64, dies peacefully in her boat. A little while later, while searching for Kya's will, Tate finds a hidden box of her old things and realizes Kya wrote poems as Amanda Hamilton, the poet frequently quoted throughout the book. Tate also finds, underneath the poems, the shell necklace Chase wore until the night he died. He then burns the rawhide string and drops the shell onto the beach, choosing to hide Kya's secret forever.
[There are potential spoilers in this section.]
Ethology, the study of animal behavior, is a topic that is covered in the book. Kya reads about ethology, including an article entitled "Sneaky Fuckers", and uses her knowledge to navigate the tricks and dating rituals of the local boys. Kya compares herself to a female firefly, who uses her coded flashing light signal to lure a male of another species to his death, or to a female mantis who lures a male mate and starts eating the mate's head and thorax while his abdomen is still copulating with her. "Female insects, Kya thought, know how to deal with their lovers."
When the book peaked as a best seller early in 2019, it attracted wide attention. Since 'crawdad', used in the title, is a regional term, it sparked a rise in online queries about the word's meaning.
Fox 2000 owns the film rights to this book. Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine production company will produce it with Witherspoon as the producer. Lucy Alibar is adapting the book to film script. Daisy Edgar-Jones is slated to play Kya. Taylor John Smith and Harris Dickinson have also signed onto the film as Tate Walker and Chase Andrews, respectively. Filming is set to run mid-April through mid-June 2021 in and around New Orleans and Houma, Louisiana.
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