March 5, 2019

'Where the Crawdads Sing' is a reading delight

    The bookstore folks know me. I know them. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when Terry handed me a first-time novel by Delia Owens and said, “You need to read this.” And when I walked in later—to buy more copies of Where the Crawdads Sing—she said, “I knew you would like it. Reminded you of Carol Ruckdeschel, didn’t it?”
     Well, I did like it. I keep buying and giving away copies.
     And, yes, the key personality, Catherine “Kya” Clark, did remind me of Carol, who was featured in Will Harlan’s UNTAMED, The Wildest Woman in America and the Fight for Cumberland Island. If you know much about Georgia’s southernmost barrier island, you’ve probably heard of Carol. She’s a legend. She has her fans and her detractors.
     Here’s what I like about “The Wildest Woman”:
·       Carol is passionate about protecting nature.
·       The footprints Carol makes in the beach’s sand are her own.
·       Carol Ruckdeschel marches to no one else’s drumbeat.
     While Carol is a real person, Kya—aka “The Marsh Girl”—is mythical, but that doesn’t stop a page-turning story by Delia Owens, a zoology grad from the University of Georgia. With a doctorate in animal behavior from the University of California, Owens has spent plenty of time off concrete and knows her way around the outdoors. She is an award-winning nature writer.
     As I read Crawdads, I was impressed by her knowledge and obvious dedication to details. Owens takes you to school, complete with Latin names. The rural setting on North Carolina’s rugged coast was another hook that pulled me in from page one.
     Do you ever sit down to a home-cooked meal and see all your favorite dishes on the table? That’s what reading Crawdads was like. The ingredients of each chapter were blended in a way that you didn’t want the story to end. A buffet of personalities was stirred with the drama of an abusive marriage, an abandoned child, coming-of-age deeds and misdeeds, race relations, romance, suspected murder, courtroom theatrics, mystique, and a surprising end-of-novel twist that would make John Grisham proud.
     Discovering Delia Owens, an alumna of my alma mater, made me proud. She is no copycat, but her prose gave me hints of four of my best-liked authors: Rick Bragg, Janisse Ray, Rheta Grimsley Johnson and, yes, John Grisham. Reading Crawdads is like pouring those authors’ wordsmithing magic into a blender and asking Owens to push the button, but not before she adds her own secret sauce to the recipe.
     So far, I’ve given away a stack of Where the Crawdads Sing copies. That’s the best endorsement that I can give Delia Owens, but she doesn’t need my help. Her groundbreaking novel is a “#1 New York Times Best Seller.” Here’s what one friend told me: “I read the whole thing in one day.”
     You might not do that.
     But if you love books—especially suspenseful novels in a backdrop of nature—I repeat what the bookstore’s Terry told me, “You need to read this.”