I know I missed last Thursday, though honestly, I sort of did it on purpose. Last month I put a lot of time into weekly book club posts, but no one commented, so I’m not sure anyone is even interested. I do love talking and writing about books, but I don’t love wasting my time.
I will continue to adjust how I run things here, based on the interaction, or lack thereof, but I’ll give it a few books before I take it too personally.
I flew threw this one. And I simply can’t wait to talk about it. If you aren’t to the end yet, you may want to bookmark this post for when you finish, and then come back to it.
What I think struck me the deepest was the sense of place that is woven so beautifully through the entire novel. I’ve never been to North Carolina, but Owens paints such an intensely rich and detailed picture of the landscape and wildlife that I experienced it with every sense as I read…from the very first swaying lines of text:
Marsh is not swamp. Marsh is a space of light, where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky. Slow-moving creeks wander, carrying the orb of the sun with them to the sea, and long-legged birds lift with unexpected grace–as though not built to fly–against the roar of a thousand snow geese.
I was captured by Owens’s style. The two interwoven stories mixed together, ebbing and flowing, picking up momentum as the story moved toward its stunning conclusion.
I read an interview somewhere in which Owens explains how the idea for the ending came to her first, and she crafted the story backwards from there, wrapping the two stories, one of murder and one of young girl growing up alone in the marshland of North Carolina in the 1950s and 60s.
I was so taken with the main character, Kya, and her ability to survive her impressively disturbing circumstances and navigate the loneliness of the solitary life that is thrust upon her.
At the heart, this is a story of a little girl, growing up alone, finding her place. She is, time and again, abandoned, by her family, by the town, and by her first love. Necessarily, she learns early not to trust and chooses to keep to herself for protection. But she finds solace and friendship in unexpected places and manages to survive, learn, and love again.
Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.
Loneliness (and the deep human need for connection), prejudice, survival, nature, education, poetry, and love seem the be the central themes of this novel, and I left it feeling both sad and uplifted.
Life had made her an expert at mashing feelings into a storable size. But loneliness has a compass of its own.
(Feel free to respond to one, a few, or all.)
- How does this setting shape the novel?
- Who is your favorite character and why?
- What do you think about Kya’s informal education and how it would have compared to a traditional education? How might Kya’s life have been different if she had remained in school?
- What are your thoughts about the actions of Kya’s family?
- Kya is an outsider. How does this shape her beliefs, values, and actions? And how does it affect those who come into contact with her?
- How is womanhood and sexuality explored throughout the novel?
- Kya is so desperate to connect that she gives into her desire for Chase, even though she feels it is born of weakness. What do you think of her relationship with Chase? How does it shape her?
- What is the role of poetry in this novel?
- Kya learns much of what she knows about relationships from nature (namely insects and what she calls “sneaky fuckers.” What does she learn and how does it shape her beliefs about human relationships between men and women.
- How does the concept of Nature vs. Nurture apply to this novel?
- What did you think about the end of the novel? The trial? The poem? Tate’s decision?
I’ll start the conversation with this one: What is your favorite passage, and why?
Mine is on page 151: “Late one afternoon, after watching for Chase Andrews, Kya walks from her shack and lies back on a sliver of beach, slick from the last wave. She stretches her arms over her head, brushing them against the wet sand, and extends her legs, toes pointed. Eyes closed, she rolls slowly toward the sea. Her hips and arms leave slight indentations in the glistening sand, brightening and then dimming as she moves. Rolling nearer the waves, she senses the ocean’s roar through the length of her body and feels the question: When will the sea touch me? Where will it touch me first?
The passage continues, poetic and sensual, until she is surrounded by “the ocean foaming around her in soft white patterns, always changing.”
I loved the passage because it encapsulated her bone-deep connection to nature so beautifully.
Alright…I’ll let it rest there. If you have any interest in continuing the discussion, post your comments below. And I’ll be back next week.