It felt to some like a reunion when Fairway Readers, a Recreation Centers of Sun City club, reconvened Nov. 12 for the first in-person meeting in more than a year.
Sue Blechl, the club’s intrepid president, managed monthly meetings during the pandemic from her home via Zoom, but the reading list selections had been postponed until the group could once again meet in person. November’s book was “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens, a wildlife scientist in Africa who lives stateside in Idaho. Although her nonfiction work has been published and won a Burroughs Award for nature writing, “Crawdads” is her first novel.
Discussion leader Jeri Hauff said she read the book three times, and she liked it better each time as she noticed different things about the characters and plot development. The story begins when 6-year-old Kya Clark hears the screen door slap shut on the shack where Kya lives with her parents at the end of a wooded lane in a North Carolina coastal marsh. She sees her mother walk up the lane and away, and later even her brother and father leave her to her own resources to survive.
Survive she does, with help from some kind people like Jumpin’ and Mabel and a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly. But mostly, Kya grows up as an observational and appreciative naturalist. Her one day at school was so disastrous that she never went back and she managed to elude authorities who would venture into the marsh to try to find her.
Sue Martin said the marshlands were so vivid that she could easily envision them in her imagination; she found herself fascinated with amoebas in swamp water! A distinction was made between the swamp that was darker than the marsh where the water was better. One participant viewed the marsh as a sort of maternal figure for Kya, and the group likened this story to others they read in works like “Hillbilly Elegy” and “Educated.”
Though the book resonates as an ode to living alone, readers sense how the isolation results in Kya’s fearfulness of community and relationships, a challenge for her as her body matures and longs for intimacy. Tate, who teaches her how to read, and Chase, a celebrated local football hero, are taken with “the Marsh girl” who grows to be a great beauty. When Chase is murdered, Kya is arrested as the prime suspect, and the Fairway readers predict that the widely anticipated film based on the book will feature dramatic courtroom scenes. The film is scheduled for release in June of 2022, and the producer is Reese Witherspoon, who said she didn’t want the story to end.
Although Kya notes that many males in nature just go from one female to another, it is the firefly female who intrigues her the most. The female firefly sends a light code to the males when she is ready to mate, but the female is adept at also sending false codes that attract males whom she devours — first a mate, then a meal, just by changing signals! But an enormous difference between fireflies and humans is the human heart. Writing poetry under a pen name, Kya writes that one should “never underrate the heart,” and people are “capable of deeds the mind cannot conceive.”
Yet, at one point, Kya said to Tate, “We are married. Like the geese.”
The 20 participants agreed they would recommend this book, save one person who wasn’t convinced because she said the studies of feral children usually indicate limited intelligence. Yet, there was something triumphant in Kya Clark’s story in that she did have a strong maternal figure when she was young and she managed to find parental substitutes. Mostly, readers liked Kya because of her resourcefulness as she faces challenges both legal and moral.
December’s book selection is E. B. (“Andy”) White’s “Charlotte’s Web.”
Fairway Readers is an initiative initially led by Jeri Hauff and Ashely Hubbard in 2012, and Blechl believes the club has brought readers together and many discovered new genres to read. There are no dues other than to “read and talk.”
The club is presently developing their reading list for 2022.
Editor’s Note: Suzy Hallock-Bannigan is a Fairway Readers participant.
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