Habitually early, I walked into the Fairfield Library book event and took a seat in the front row. I prefer to have an unobstructed view to the speaker and don’t feel shy about sitting alone in the center of the first row, but clearly, if others like to have an unobstructed view, their preference for being more obscure or part of a crowd, protected in a pack in the middle or back, surrounded by others and not so close, outweighs the desire to be directly in front. The author, Delia Owens was at the podium getting herself prepared for her book talk on Where the Crawdads Sing, her first fiction book, and she looked directly at me sitting alone and smiled. She came over to say hello, thanked me for attending and told me she knew me from Instagram.
The room started to fill up and Delia sat down next to me in the front row and I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with her for a while before the program began. She told me she lived in Africa with her husband, now ex-husband for 23 years. They were married for over 40 and several years ago divorced. They still live together on the same property in Idaho but it is a huge piece of land so it is working out fine for now. We talked about the pressure her relationship endured in those years, being so secluded from other humans while they did research, and how the hopes of it repairing itself upon their return went unfulfilled.
This one on one conversation along with Delia Owens’ public talk on Where the Crawdads Sing, her research on the social biology of animals, and her book’s main character Kya, who grew up on her own in the marsh in North Carolina got me thinking about seclusion, women, being alone and how everyone has different levels of enjoyment and tolerance when they are solo. According to Delia, just as in a troop of baboons, a herd of elephants, and a pride of lions, human females tend to travel in groups, play, eat and sleep together. There are many benefits of having alone time, but how much is too much? Isolation can change a person, and in Kya, a character based on many women the author knows, we can see how being alone can have major impact. But as Delia said, women are strong. We can do a lot more than we think we can and when put in the situation, we do it.
She said she wrote Where the Crawdads Sing in two parts, PART 1 is The Marsh – a beautiful place of light and sparkling water. Part 2 is The Swamp – a dark place. Like Kya, her character in the book, sometimes in our lives we go to The Swamp, but we always strive for the Marsh.
Delia Owens is an inspiring speaker, well prepared as one would expect a researcher would be. She did say, standing up in front of a room full of women caused her to experience the same feelings she has when being rushed by lions in Africa – a sign to me that she does not crave crowds and probably feels most peaceful alone and riding horses. She did mention her house is many miles from civilization and she goes to town one a week to see people when she is at home in Idaho. It was incredible to meet her in person and observe how her life experiences influenced her and how so much of that is evident in her writing. Where the Crawdads Sing was chosen for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine Book Club and I agree with Reese when she says she didn’t want the book to end!
A love story, a mystery and a courtroom drama… Where the Crawdads Sing has all that it takes for a compelling and beautifully rich novel. Just as author Delia Owens’ went way out yonder where the crawdads sing to connect with nature, the main character, Kya becomes one with her surroundings. As each important person in her life abandoned her, Kya learned to be self sufficient and survive alone in the marsh as a very young child. With limited human contact and lack of strong friendships, her natural surroundings became her mother. She is awkward around other people yet capable and self reliant. She learned all she needed to know to sustain a comfortable life, until her desire for personal connection, touch and love emerged as she grew up. She muddled her way through the hurt of abandonment as she embarked on a new adventure of companionship – but life is complicated. Now she is a grown woman, and there is a murder in the marsh. Her isolation over the years influenced her odd behaviors and has made her a target for ridicule and an obvious earmark for blame. Most of the townspeople are agains her – will anyone come to her rescue as she is accused of the unthinkable or will she have to fend for herself as she has done her entire life?
The natural beauty of the marsh, the heartbreak and loneliness of Kya, the suspense and unfolding of the mysterious murder and the love story that beats all odds combined into an emotional, descriptive and addictive, well written novel made it impossible for me to put down. I highly recommend Where the Crawdads Sing!
* On March 17, 2019, CBS aired an interview with Delia Owens and here it is. *
About the author:
Delia Owens is the co-author of three internationally bestselling nonfiction books about her life as a wildlife scientist in Africa—Cry of the Kalahari, The Eye of the Elephant, and Secrets of the Savanna. She has won the John Burroughs Award for Nature Writing and has been published in Nature, The African Journal of Ecology, and International Wildlife, among many others. She currently lives in Idaho, where she continues her support for the people and wildlife of Zambia. Where the Crawdads Sing is her first novel.