The Crane Wife

by Patrick Ness
First sentence: “
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy given me by the Penguin rep.
Content: Multiple f-bombs and other language, some off-screen sex. Rightly sits with the adult fiction at the bookstore.

George is your very typical kind-of-loser guy. He’s divorced (nine years) with a child (who’s in her 20s) and can’t seem to keep a relationship (he’s too nice; they always break it off, but he’s always friends with them after). Even though he’s the owner of a print shop, he’s a bit of a pushover, letting his one employee, Mehmet, push him around. But, because he’s nice, because he’s George, when a crane with an arrow piercing its wing unexpectedly lands in his suburban London backyard in the middle of the night, he helps it out.

The next day, a woman named Kumiko shows up in George’s print shop. And suddenly, George’s life — and the life of his daughter, Amanda — are irrevocably changed.

Yes, this is a fairy tale. A very charming, sweet, wonderful fairy tale. Ness divides its time between George, Amanda, and Kumiko’s tales, but does so in a way that doesn’t feel awkward or forced. But it’s not just a fairy tale — or at least not just a one-dimensional fairy tale — art (in this case, paper cuttings) and a slight Japanese-inspired tale within a tale play major roles, which gives the book depth and substance.

But what I enjoyed most with this one was Ness’s use of the language. The fact that one of his characters, Rachel (who is very confused and not at all nice), speaks entirely in questions. Or the way he uses “…” to represent silence. Or the way George and Amanda think of themselves. And descriptive sentences like “He loved physical books with the same avidity other people loved horses or wine or prog rock.” (60) or “Stories do not explain. They seem to, but all they provide is a starting point. A story never ends at the end.” (141-142) or “She stopped, her face scrunching up in some really, really unattractive crying.” (161) There were others, but those are the ones that I marked.

It did all the things I want a book to do: it gave me characters to care about, and transported me away from the dreary winter months. It delighted me, and made me wish I was even a tiny bit artistic.

Delightful.

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