I’m a big fan of Patrick Ness. His ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy is on my top ten list of favorite books, ever, so I had high hopes when I sat down to read The Crane Wife. I don’t really believe in putting books in categories, but I think it’s fair to say this is his first book which doesn’t feature a younger protagonist. Instead, the main character is a middle-aged man named George.
George is a nice guy. He’s so nice, in fact, that although his friends and family love him and are fiercely loyal to him, he is actually quite lonely. His wife has left him for being too nice, and so he lives alone. One night he hears a cry coming from his backyard, and upon investigating he discovers a white crane that has been shot through the wing by an arrow. George manages to remove the arrow and save the bird’s life, and it promptly flies away.
The next day while working in his print shop, George is surprised by a visitor, a mysterious woman named Kumiko. George and Kumiko discover a shared passion for creating artwork from found objects, in George’s case old, damaged paperbacks and in Kumiko’s–feathers. Kumiko combines her and George’s efforts to produce something new and beautiful, an original kind of art which quickly captivates anyone who views it and creates an immediate buzz and high demand from patrons.
Kumiko has an equally captivating effect on everyone who meets her, particularly George and his grown daughter. As George and Kumiko grow closer, his life starts to change in ways that he never imagined. There is a secondary storyline that concerns George’s daughter, Amanda, who is in many ways his opposite–a blunt, angry person who has trouble making and keeping friends. Her life is changed by Kumiko’s presence as well.
Ness’ writing is enjoyable to read, as always, and I particularly enjoyed the character of Amanda. I found George and Kumiko to be a bit more nebulous and harder to understand. There is an almost dreamlike quality to the story that, while in keeping with the myth that underlines it, makes it hard to get into. Perhaps because I was unfamiliar with the original tale of the crane wife, I didn’t feel a connection to that aspect of the book and I didn’t enjoy the parts that retell the myth.
One of the things that I appreciate the most about Ness is that his stories are never just stories. There is always more going on behind the actions of the plot, a larger meaning that is only revealed once you finish reading. I think in this case, I just didn’t really get what he was trying to show. The Crane Wife is well-written and interesting, but I would recommend reading the original Japanese myth first to have some familiarity with what is going on behind the retelling.
Thanks so much to Edelweiss and The Penguin Press HC for providing me with a copy of this book.