The Book was Better: How Characters are Everything in Where the Crawdads Sing
***WARNING: The blog contains spoilers.
Where the Crawdads Sing has been such a phenomenon. Book clubs from all over the country– who knows, maybe the world–have read and sung its praises. Why did I love this book? Many reasons. Owens’s prose is absolutely stunning in this work. And her expert craftsmanship with her vivid descriptions is unreal. And by that, I mean, it made the setting of Barkley Cove and its surrounding marshes so real, you could smell and feel the moistness in the air, hear the wildlife, and soak in the vibrant greenery encompassing Kya’s home.
But the real essence of this novel is Kya. Her insightful perspective. Her interactions with or evasions of the other characters in the book. Her loneliness is as vast as the marshes the reader explores with her: “Loneliness has a compass of its own” (Owens). And yet, the relationships she forms, or doesn’t form, trickle down like drops of dew to her early childhood leading back to her remarkable adulthood as an outsider.
Which brings me to why the book was better.
Don’t get me wrong. I quite enjoyed the movie. The cinematography was beautiful–it would have been unacceptable to not be. And Daisy Edgar-Jones was excellent, as were the others who were cast, especially Harris Dickinson as Chase Andrews.
But, that building, and unbuilding, of relationships so poignant to Kya’s journey as the protagonist was missing from the film. In the book, there are chapters upon chapters of Kya and her mother, Kya and Pa, Kya and Tate, Kya and Chase. That’s the problem with films. Time lapses, and therefore the depth of relationships, must be sped up. In the novel, when Tate doesn’t meet up with Kya while in college–so brutal for Kya, it is no wonder she gravitates toward Chase–I can understand the empathy behind his motivations. He’s a kid, for one. He has no idea what to do with Kya at this stage. And he’s also grappling with his own grief–something the movie included, but glossed over. In the film, viewers cannot fill in those gaps for poor Tate. I do wonder how many people who’ve watched the movie, but didn’t read the book, forgave Tate for not coming home? Does he get redeemed for them? Tate is awesome (I mean, he teaches Kya to read! Team Tate Forever!), but without the depth of the novel’s exploration of Tate’s character, his full awesomeness cannot fully come through.
This same argument can be made for Kya’s mother and Pa, who are, without the proper motivations and background, left flat. The viewers have only what they witness in the scenes of the movie. Pa is just mean and that’s that in the movie. Kya’s mother just sort of leaves, and her wrestling with the class system she’s forced in and out of, and the state of her mental health, serves merely as a plot device for Kya rather than a character the reader may empathize with.
There you have it. Due to rushed time lapses and hollowed out characters, the book was better.
Where the Crawdads Sing–a beautiful illustration of people. How people need one another. How people can so quickly judge and ostracize. How people can be redeemed or reckoned with when they must make choices. And maybe most importantly, even through adversity, how people have the power to create their own identities.