Top positive review
A Perfect Song
August 26, 2018
Cynic that I am, with a finely-tuned Inner Critic always on high alert, it is often difficult to relax and read a book for pure pleasure, falling into the story, walking beside the characters, feeling their sun on my arms, their cold rain on my shoulders, and their emotions reaching deep and catching hold. When it happens, though, I treasure the experience, and for days, sometimes weeks afterward, I regret my return to the less-than-magical, the more mundane, and too frequently, the patently awful, books on offer.
A glowing review by a friend whose opinion I generally respect enticed me to try this book, one which is really not the type I would select. But I was interested in the North Carolina setting and the premise of a “wild child” living alone in the marshes. So off I went, nose in my Kindle.
I read the book in two days, reading late into the night, snatching time during the day between work and chores. Actually, the chores fell by the wayside, except for feeding my puppies. I was mesmerized, enchanted, wrung out, appalled, energized, and amazed. I dislike that last, overused word, but sometimes it’s the one that works. And when I finished, I knew this was a book I’d read again, several times, and would not easily forget.
What made it so special to me? First, the writing: effortless, flowing, lyrical, and clear. I absorbed it without stumbling, without mentally substituting a better word, or revising sentence structure. Nope. It was perfect for the tale being told.
Second, Kya: a child of wonder, pain, abuse, abandonment, determination, beauty, the sort more from within than without, and a resourcefulness most of us cannot imagine. Kya’s no cliché, no feral child just waiting to be rescued and rehabbed by well-meaning but clumsy individuals. She transcends those stereotypes by leaps and bounds, and when she chooses to interact with others, she does so on her own terms. I also found the transformation, subtle and something easily missed if you’re not paying attention, of Kya’s speech patterns as she grew up, losing the backwoods twang and limited vocabulary of her crazy and largely uneducated father, for an almost academic style resulting from the stacks and stacks of books she devoured.
Third, the setting: marshes that are hardly the monochromatic sweeps of green and blue so favored by weekend painters to the tourist trade; lagoons swarming with color and critters; birds far more numerous and varied than the ubiquitous seagulls; fireflies [although North Carolina folks call them lightnin’ bugs] flickering on and off with their special mating codes above the marsh; mud that isn’t yucky but the habitat of insects and worms; and the ocean, the largest body of all, rolling on past the undulating marsh grasses, the switchback creeks, placid lagoons, and sugar-soft strips of sand. You can see all this, feel it in the blistering heat of summer and the chill moist fog of autumn and winter, smell the briny sharpness and the unmistakable tang of marsh mud at low tide, and hear the calls of all the birds, the waves rustling and then crashing, the wind making dead grass clatter. And what about taste? Well, there are all those grits, seeming years of grits…
As always, other folks have provided the obligatory precis of the story, so go read those. I’ll simply say that the plot is not trite, it’s not one you could predict, or want to, I suspect. Neither are the characters in addition to Kya, even though one or two wear the clothes of a cliché until they morph into something else.
Now here is the true evidence of this book’s power for me: I found some jarring elements, me, the reader who demands absolute historical, social, and geographical accuracy, and I just didn’t care. But here goes.
The crawdads of the title are freshwater creatures, so they would not be denizens of Kya’s briny/saltwater marshes. No one in North Carolina would call them anything but crawfish; growing up in Raleigh, I played with crawfish in creeks and streams. Crawdad is a name used by folks west of the Appalachians. However, crawdads do indeed sing, according to Woody Guthrie.
People who live along the coast in North Carolina small towns would never go shopping can’t in Asheville. True, you could drive from Manteo on the Outer Banks to Murphy in the state’s western tip using US Highway 64 the entire way, but it would have taken some 12 hours in the. Thus the references to Asheville as a destination for shopping struck a wrong note. So did having Kya’s meeting with her publisher in Greenville. People flying in from Big Cities Up North would have landed in Raleigh or Charlotte. Greenville didn’t have an airport in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
Finally, I can’t find but one, possibly two, spots along the Atlantic coastline where Kya’s marsh sanctuary could have been located, given the detailed descriptions of boating through creeks and lagoons to the ocean. That did make me wonder if the author used her imagination without the assistance of a few topographical maps.
But you know what? These minor quibbles aren’t worth a star, or even the point of a star to me, who is from NC, or to anyone else. Such is the beauty and power of this story.