I have been re-reading the Delia Owens book Where The Crawdads Sing. The book was optioned for a movie and I wanted to reread it before I see the movie, which is now newly released. Not that I am going to rush to see the movie right away, but I will eventually because I love the book.
The cover of the book declares it “a murder mystery, a coming of age-narrative, and a celebration of nature.” That is practically a dumbing down of the novel. It is so much more than the obviousness pitched on the cover to sell copies to the masses. It’s also about isolation and acceptance.
This book took the author a decade to write and has been sitting for 168 weeks on the top of the New York Times Best Seller List. It’s a haunting book, and a twisty-turny one for sure. But there are so many nuances. The main character is Kya.
Kya is a product of a dysfunctional Southern family riddled with issues and abuse. Her father beats everyone and is a crazy alcoholic and World War II veteran whom today probably would have been diagnosed at a minimum with PTSD. Eventually, Kya’s multiple siblings and her mother leave. They leave a then rather little girl with a dangerously abusive man, her father. Kya is also treated horribly by her community at large, a victim of nasty small town gossip, prejudice, and bullying. She is a poor white kid in a small town who lives in a marsh.
This Kya is called all sorts of names. Marsh Girl, missing link, marsh trash, dirty. She goes to school for like a day and runs away from it because the kids are so horrible. She is an outcast, an outsider. A few befriend her including member of the small black community who know all well the reality of prejudice and racism, and that is how she learns to read, take care of herself. Through these people she is introduced to a book publisher as she gets older because of her nature watercolors and accounts of wildlife living in and around her on the marsh. Her life experience, what she knows.
A lot of the book shows you the aching loneliness of a human being who only wants to be seen and loved. Her friends whom she actually trusts are the wild things in the marsh. Kya grow up naïve, world weary, mistrusting. Always the outsider looking in and so alone. People like that live among us every day. The people most don’t take the time to get to know.
The undercurrent of any human being’s need for acceptance is something that flows throughout this book. That got me thinking.
I remember growing up, I often felt like I didn’t fit. And I was by no means an outsider or outcast. I began to contemplate it when I was at Shipley, which then was predominantly WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) and some of the people I went to school just came from these families with insane money and pedigrees going back centuries. I was average middle class and had a vowel on the end of my name and was Catholic. Where many were blonde and blue eyed with adorable figures and killer equestrian and other sporting related genes, I had dark hair and was distinctly average. And it wasn’t that people weren’t nice, most were even if some weren’t. But it was sometimes it was like, where did I fit? Or was I just thinking too much and over-thinking? Probably. It may have been the experience before Shipley that caused that.
I had experienced that whole not fitting most acutely and didn’t know really what it was when we first moved to the Main Line from the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. My parents plunked me in Welsh Valley Junior High School, part of the esteemed Lower Merion School District.
Welsh Valley in my day was a hot bed of some of the meanest mean girls who walked the earth to this day. I wasn’t called “Marsh Girl” but I was called “City Girl” with derision and often. And I was bullied a bit. Even as I made friends, I was bullied and simultaneously watched the girls who were friends with me get a hard time sometimes because of association with me. And for what? I was new, didn’t fit into their then molds of having all mostly known each other since kindergarten. It didn’t just happen to me, and I knew many girls and boys they were just as miserable to. These were girls who literally just did this for the sheer sport of it.
I actually didn’t buckle to those girls, although the one who went to school with me but was a year behind me did make me come close in Sunday school. Yes, Sunday school. We lived in the same neighborhood at one time, and everything was fine until my mother bought me a pair of French jeans and a narrow wale corduroy jumper from a store in Ardmore where young to mid- teen and tween girls shopped. It’s been so long I forget the name. It was down the street on Lancaster Avenue from the Army-Navy.
I had not seen the clothing on anyone. These were styles everyone was wearing, and pretty much every girl I knew or knew of then shopped at this store in Ardmore. So I wore the jumper to church and Sunday school one Sunday. This girl literally came after me during a break in Sunday school. I remember I just kept moving to get away from her. She was yelling at me, trying to hit me. She was taller than me too. Yelling mainly that I was a copycat (‘take it off”) and worse. Yes…she happened to be wearing the same jumper…in a different color. I had never seen her wear it. Our mothers must have bought it at the same time. She had a sister in my class. She was a quieter more calculating version of her younger sister. They left me alone in school, and came after me in Sunday school. I remember my mother thought I was making it up at first until other parents kind of said “Oh THOSE girls.”
This was just one example.
No one ever stopped them. The other mean girls were the Monday through Friday variety. They were even worse. They were especially delightful during lunch period and gym. I was grateful that my parents let me go to Shipley. There I found my fit and my footing, but sometimes I just felt odd man out, like I didn’t belong. But Shipley at least gave me the courage to see the junior high bullies for what and who they were. And I remember being very amused by some of the attempts of a few of them to quasi friend me when I was a junior and senior in high school because one of the cute high school jocks they liked to chase was my neighbor and we were friends. Of course, that was a foreign concept to them to be friends with a guy. For the most part, they were what my friend’s grandmother would describe as being fast and having round heels. I didn’t quite get the round heels reference at first. Like I said, I was naiive. But I knew enough to be amused by the false offers of friendship, and to keep my distance. However, I did learn a valuable lesson then: throughout your life there will people who will always need you more than you need them.
This whole not quite fitting at times doesn’t end with middle school or high school. It exists with adults and has become more prevalent in the age of social media. Take for example, this woman who is all over social media and in her business model about how important it is to lift up and support other women. Anyway, she is on this thread mocking another woman, a stranger to her, over a local fundraising calendar that was like the UK movie Calendar Girls. The comments are nasty, sexist, ageist, sizeist. Their target was a woman who is not size four skinny with Botox, breast enhancements, tons of makeup always, hair extensions, or Come-F-Me pumps. She is an actual real woman who is truthfully pretty, smart, and nice…but outspoken.
Outspoken always gets punished. Outspoken never quite fits and I know that first hand. It’s like yawn, why be so predictable…yet they are predictable and practically run off of a script. Similar to sniping at me, another stranger from a strange land to them.
These are the people in today’s world in general who seem to find it their mission to make everyone not them not fit. They are the only ones whose acceptance in this world should matter. Basically pick a year, a decade, a century and you will find people, especially women like this. They exist to wound. Be mean. You don’t fit in whatever notion they have of the big, wide word and society.
A couple of years ago I heard a story of a woman who was then a new breast cancer survivor who had horrible complications. Another survivor, supposedly a “friend”, offers her clothes she was finished with because she lost weight. But she was neither nice nor kind about it. More like “Here I won’t need these fat clothes any more.” Took my breath away hearing that. Just gratuitously mean, and again from a woman who supposedly likes to tell people how wonderful she is and supportive of other women.
As an adult, I have experienced the don’t quite fit at different stages of adulthood. First when I was among those who didn’t get married and procreate right away. It just wasn’t in the cards at first, and guess what? Some of those who were the harshest of that brand of critics are now all divorced at least once. And about the having no kids naturally out of my womb of it all? Couldn’t have them. Knew that early enough on in my life. It bothered me at times, but then it just didn’t because it was simply beyond my control.
Then I experienced the don’t quite fit when I moved to Chester County. At first it was because I was new and some folks had been around forever between their lives, and the lives of family members. Then it was because I was living with someone and not married. Yes, really. How do people have so much time on their hands to do this crap to other people?
Slowly over time, I have been accepted by some, not all. Ironically those who accepted me first are a lot of the people a generation or two above me who are long term residents of Chester County. Just nice, decent people. Also slowly over time you learn to let go of the negative feelings caused by the non-accepting. But you also learn over time it is O.K. to stand up for yourself and tell them what they are doing is not acceptable if you want.
But still, not everyone is accepting. It’s life. I ran into it again recently. Very hurtful, and caught me by surprise because it was unexpected. But it’s mostly because they have never met anyone like me that can’t just be put into a comfort category and left there. I am also outspoken. I stand up for myself. Standing up for myself is something I learned to do. You can thank Welsh Valley Junior High School in Lower Merion Township for that. When you are going to a school that is sometimes like a literal Mean Girls meets Lord of the Flies or bad Darwinian theory, you learn.
What it comes down to is simple: if you aren’t from someone else’s precise world, people may or may not be comfortable with you. It just is what it is. Where The Crawdads Sing definitely delves into this and the question of acceptance within a community and how isolating people changes them and you. That is also what I think plays into the realities of racism at times.
Today, in the USA we live in a world of extremism. Politically, socially, financially, and oh yes climatically. It’s sad and tiring. I wonder what other countries think of us? Maybe I don’t want to know because maybe it is just too embarrassing.
If you haven’t read Where The Crawdads Sing, you should. And before you see the movie because I am told sadly the movie still doesn’t capture all the myriad nuances of the book BUT that doesn’t surprise me. It would have to be a Netflix or Prime series, not just a two hour movie to capture it all.
What happens when you don’t quite know how you fit? In the end it just depends how strong you are and if you are willing to be human as well. People always say “be kind” but they should add also don’t be fake. Being genuine goes a long way.
Thanks for stopping by.