Thank you to Tordotcom and NetGalley for sending me a copy of The Crane Husband in exchange for an honest review!
For six years, a family of three has survived on its own. A 15-year-old girl is the backbone, managing the household and caring for her younger brother while her mother weaves beautiful tapestries. One day, however, the mother returns home with a human-sized crane.
While it isn’t unusual for her to bring home new partners, this affair is nowhere near as fleeting. Her mother is infatuated with the menacing crane. The girl can only watch as she makes herself small and abandons her family to weave him a masterpiece. Forced to grow up faster than she should, the teen will do whatever it takes to protect her family.
The Crane Husband is the newest work by award-winning author Kelly Barnhill. She’s known for all sorts of fantastical works, from middle-grade fairytales to feminist revenge stories. At first glance, The Crane Husband is a simple, gender-swapped retelling of the traditional crane wife folktale. In the original tale, it’s the crane who weaves her own feathers into her work. Here, the woman is human and incorporates her strength and even blood into her art, growing weaker and weaker. The addition of her family makes things even more tragic.
Barnhill’s writing style is tight, and her prose is sparse. There are incredible glimpses, however, into the strange, near-future setting. The narrative is almost unmoored from time; depressed midwestern towns and endless cornfields intertwine with surveillance drones and cloned crops. This confusion makes sense with our unnamed narrator. With everything going on, she doesn’t have time to explain the world around her. She can only focus on the problems close to home.
Some of these problems are those many children face: a neglectful mother, visits from a social worker and financial instability. But the social worker records each interaction with her glasses, and the mother neglects her for a human-sized crane that fills their home with violence. Barnhill strips love down to its ugliest parts and centers the all-too-real experience of being a child forced to grow up too soon.
Fans of surrealist fantasy and folktale retellings will appreciate The Crane Husband. It’s Barnhill’s darkest work, intense and all too real. This slim novella has a lot of nuance and will surely stick with you.
The Crane Husband comes out on February 28, 2023, and is available for preorder now from your local independent bookstore or Bookshop.org.
TW: animal death, child abuse, death of a parent, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, gun violence, neglect, sexual content, terminal illness, toxic relationships
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