The Crane Wife: A Review

26 April 2015 § Leave a comment

Patrick Ness’ novel The Crane Wife leveled me completely. I practiced putting it down sometimes, that I wouldn’t get to the end too quickly. It reads like a fairy tale, features the kind of symbolism and irony I wished for in tenth grade English class. Maybe I just thought I understood it more than I understood The Scarlet Letter because I’m older now. Maybe it resonated me to near collapse every chapter or so because I’ve been in love, and this story is that story.

Close enough, anyway, that I was consoled by the humanity of Ness’ characters. The Crane Wife opens as George, the American London print shop owner, hears an odd sound in the middle of the night, and discovers a giant white bird with a giant arrow piercing its wing in his back yard. The next day, as he fiddles with a new art form, an enigmatic woman named Kumiko walks into his print shop and alters the course of George’s life with a little, innocent question and a lethal dose of calm. What follows is a middle-aged American-in-London’s path to freedom, and forgiveness. Which are, perhaps, as we find out later in the book, the same thing.

It is also a story of George’s daughter, Amanda, who despises everyone but her son and, rarely, her father. Through a surprisingly normal series of events—trouble getting along with co-workers, being left out of the loop about dad’s new girlfriend, sleeping regretfully with her ex-husband—Amanda begins to feel like she never has before. Tears, just below the surface. Unexpected blurting of intimate thoughts. Pushing others’ hot, hot buttons very, very hard.

George and the mysterious Kumiko collaborate on tile art that devastates everyone who sees it. Art people begin to offer ridiculous sums for the tiles, composed of feathers and cuttings from used books. As the worlds of George and his daughter Amanda start to overlap to no small degree, the reader may find himself in the back yard of his own logic.

Patrick Ness writes art and poetics into a self-aware, humorously critical narrative that is both seamless and timeless. With a small, dynamic cast, Ness shamelessly explores the confuzzled feelings that spark and sometimes erupt between two people regardless of who they think they are, or who they are to others.

I highly recommend The Crane Wife first to anyone who thinks they know what love is. More, to those who have been cast from it.


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