Delia Owens is not a novelist. She is a naturalist. I think she made a few bloopers, but on the whole, this is a lovely book. I picked it up (after having lifted it from my daughter) at about six in the evening, read until about three in the morning, and then began reading again somewhere about six and finished it at ten. Thank you, Delia Owens, for giving me these hours of pleasure.
I have been a writing teacher for over forty years, specializing in, among other things, social class theory and writing instruction. While teaching at LSU, I also lived in Baton Rouge with its wonderful swamps so I loved, loved, loved the setting of Crawdads. I love swamps the way I love mountains. As a social class theorist and swamp lover, I thought Owens nailed it. My central criticism: I think she overwrote the shallow, socially racist culture of Kya’s community. I grew up country, so I slightly resented the redneck trope on which the book is based. Redneck is the wrong word: Classist is better. The point is that the people who run the town think of Kia and those like her as swamp trash. As a rural working-class academic, I get this. In many ways Owen is right. However, my life has taught me that the quotidian is more generous than she allows. Still, I respect the different windows through which we have seen others.
The ending seems to shock people. It shocked me a bit—although as a fan of Arthur Conan Dowle, I had anticipated to some degree the turn in which we (and Tate) discover that Kya had killed Chase. Owens, like Conan Dowle, had set the scene. Most readers, like me, were on her side when she seemed the innocent white trash irresponsibly accused of murdering Chase.
This post is already too long. I’ll get to the crux. I was disappointed when I discovered that this apparently innocent swamp trash was in fact the killer: that she had set up the meeting elsewhere, had boarded the bus, checked in, etc., and then disguised herself on a return bus trip to trap Chase.
I’m a semi-naturalist. I got the point of the fireflies. Basically, males are assholes, as our current president has made clear. If I were a woman, I would want to eat those fuckers up-certainly the ones like Chase. I like to imagine that I’m a bit more like Tate and might survive the gender-based revenge.
My first thought after reading the last page: Chase was a rapist, and she killed him in revenge. Maybe a bit over the top, but I got it. I would have been OK with her cutting his balls off, but as a man, I have no idea of how deep sexual violation goes. If I were a woman, it’s quite possible that I might want to kill someone who had raped me. It’s also possible that I would do it.
But then I thought: she didn’t act out of revenge, although there was certainly a bit of that, she was mostly protecting herself. I don’t remember the scenes exactly (I had to give Crawdadsback, but after Kya returned from ___ ‘s funeral, she had seen Chase looking for her. And she knew what he would do to her if he found her. Given the frame of swamp trash against the middle-class neighborhood, most people would either not believe her claim about what Chase had done or they would think she had it coming.
In essence, she knew (and I think she was right), she would never have her life as long as Chase chased (J) her; being someone like Trump, he would think it was his right to fuck her whenever he wanted to.
Given the frame of the townies against the swamp trash, she knew she had no one to protect her. She was alone, a Sartrian existentialist. As she had learned in school, the rules rule against her and her language (the essence of social reproduction). Since the law wouldn’t protect her, she took care of herself. I would like to imagine I would have done the same. She was awfully clever.
I might go into why she didn’t tell Tate anything about what was going on, but I want to skip over that to the larger question (for me, not whining to Tate and thus placing him in jeopardy fit her heroic character) of when do we take the law into our own hands? I will have to say that law and order people are generally either hypocrites or idiots. There is virtue in community consensus, but if the community wants to put all Jewish people (or immigrants) in concentration camps, then I am simply not going to obey the law. I don’t really know where this leaves me, but I do know that if President Bonespurs orders me to separate children from their parents, I’m not going to do it. When President Johnson told me I had to go to Vietnam to kill people who were resisting foreign invaders, I said I wouldn’t go (I actually see a difference between what I and Bonespurs did).
I don’t know where this leaves me or Owens. Maybe I still belong to the generation who prefers questions over answers. But I liked this book. Presumeably like Owens, I half-think animals have a higher moral perspective than people. We’ll see in 2020.