Topping the charts of Goodreads and receiving endorsements from the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Taylor Swift, Delia Owens’s 2018 novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” was an instant success. The much-anticipated release of its film adaptation, however, has not come without scrutiny.
“Where the Crawdads Sing” follows Kya Clark as she grows up alone in the North Carolina marshes, nature being her sole companion. The climactic event of the story occurs when Kya is put on trial for the murder of an ex-lover. Though Kya is declared innocent by the court, in a shocking twist at the end of the film, it is revealed that she was guilty all along (though the audience isn’t too upset about this, seeing as her victim was abusive and had attempted to rape her). Following Kya’s death, years after the trial, her husband discovers the missing necklace from the crime scene hidden in her belongings. Shocked, he destroys the evidence, the credits roll and the audience is left thinking: Yes! The marsh girl got away with it.
Though the movie did a decent job of emphasizing the heroine Kya’s immense love for the natural world, it glossed over significant plot points that made the book unique. Most shockingly, the film completely scrapped the book’s reveal that Kya had secretly been submitting poetry to the local newspaper under the pseudonym Amanda Hamilton. This is important in the novel, as the poems, scattered throughout the book, reveal certain things about Kya that had not been explicitly told to the reader. The omission of these poems and other valuable plot points result in the film lacking much of the book’s zest and depth.
Despite the film’s shortcomings, it received an immense amount of publicity. While some of this came from the film’s celebrity involvement (Taylor Swift composing music for it and Reese Witherspoon producing it) the movie’s release brought up decades-old questions regarding the author’s dubious past.
The connections between the story and Owens’ real life begin to get suspicious when one examines Owens’ time as a wilderness conservationist in Zambia, Africa. Owens, her former husband, and his son, Chris, stepped over the line in their conservation efforts when footage of the murder of a Zambian animal poacher was broadcasted in an ABC documentary about the family. Though the perpetrator of the crime was not directly shown, after the incident, ABC cameraman Chris Everson asserted that it was Chris Owens who had fired the weapon that killed the poacher. Similar to Kya in “Where the Crawdads Sing,” the Owenses evaded capture for their crimes, returning to the United States before the Zambian authorities could investigate the situation.
Owens has made it clear that much of the content of “Where the Crawdads Sing” is based on her real-life experiences. A naturalist like Kya, Owens spent much of her youth in the North Carolina wilderness. The title was inspired by her own mother, who, encouraging Owens to explore, would often say, “Go way out yonder where the crawdads sing.”
The parallels between Owens’ life and Kya’s seem all too peculiar to exclude the possibility that Owens wrote Kya’s character and her escape from justice as a reflection of the former’s own evasion of the law. The book and film suggest the man Kya kills deserves his fate, and it’s entirely possible to assume that Owens feels the same way about her and her family’s victim.
Considering Owen’s spotty past, Taylor Swift and Reese Witherspoon’s support of the film raises questions about their own character. Is it right to support a film if the author of the adapted story is likely an accomplice to murder? Is the beauty of the story enough to disregard its suspicious inspiration? Does the author’s talent justify society ignoring her dubious past? I’m not sure that it does.
Title: “Where the Crawdads Sing”
Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, David Strathairn
Director: Olivia Newman
Shamrocks: 3 out of 5