Although the photo on the back inside book flap depicts a woman author, older perhaps, with thick gray hair and a knowing smile, there is so much more to this conventional-looking lady than meets the eye. She writes with the kind of simplicity that has an undertow, a placid lake that has unknown depths, the kind of writer that has either read, or simply embodies Ernest Hemingway’s advice “Write one true sentence, the truest sentence you have ever known.”
Women are gaining in voice in literature in a new way, a way that I haven’t read yet in my long history of reading books. Women characters have a changed voice, the inherent strength they possess is no longer silent, stuffed down and gagged by civility and social convention. There is a new kind of heroine protagonist, the outsider that has no desire to fit in, the woman who likes herself as she is,with her own insecurities, demons, and determination. With the character of Kya, we see a female hero of the best kind, the person who cares enough about herself to defend her own honor, the honor born of many setbacks and a close relationship with her natural world.
Kya was born into an inherently unstable family, one in which the parents can’t evoke any sense of kinship and loyalty due to their own childish natures and intent self-focus. I would describe them as narcissistic survivalists, the father emotionally and physically abusive and absent, the mother fed up and mentally exhausted. They raise their children in a shack on the marsh backwoods of the Carolina coast, keeping very few conventions, such as regular meals or schooling for their brood of five.
Kya, the youngest, has honed her own survival instincts like a wild animal, looking for clues and hiding from strangers that could only mean trouble. Her deep connections to the marsh inhabitants include caring for the animals that appear to love her back. Her ties to the land and her tiny world kept tight except for her trips to small-town Berkley Cove, and to “Jumpin’s” Marina, both which she kept to a minimum, only appearing when she is out of gas or basic food supplies.
Kya’s itinerant, drunken father, her main touchstone to civilization, appears and disappears at the shack, so most of her time is spent alone. She loves to sketch her surroundings and catalog the many varieties of flora and fauna in and around the marsh. Her brother Jodie introduced her to his friend, Chase, when they were children, and Tate was able to give her perhaps the greatest gift she has ever had, the ability to read. This ability drives her to enter the library on occasion, one more slight tie to town nearby. As her caring for Tate grows, another man enters her life, and this one does not have the same values and sensibilities as she does. The result is a lyrical, page-turning tale of love, losss, and the ties that both constrain Kya, and set her free.
The book is full of symbolic ritual, and through it, the reader is seeped in Kya’s way of life, her beliefs and convictions. The early introduction the death of a Berkley Cove “Favorite Son” peaked my interest immediately. The resulting chaos and uncertainty that engulfs the town as a result is made palpable by Ms. Owens’ unspooling prose. Kya’s life will be forever changed by the event, but was it a death, or murder? Was she involved, or simply a victim of small-town gossip and innuendo about the “Swamp Girl?”
To learn the answers to these questions, you really must read every word of this book. Be prepared for late nights, holding this delicious read until it slips from your hands. That is the goal, after all, to become so immersed in a story that one lacks the ability to think about anything else. Thank you, Delia Owens, for two sleepless nights. They were totally worth it!