The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness (New York: Penguin Press, 2014. 310 pp)
Patrick Ness is the author of the award winning Chaos Walking Trilogy, the Costa Children’s Book Award winner, A Monster Calls, for young adults, a novel for adults called, The Crash of Hennington, and a story collection for adults, Topics About Which I Know Nothing. Ness grew up in Hawaii and Washington State and now lives in London.
Enter: The Nice Guy
George Duncan is an American living and working in London, much like the author himself. Duncan is forty-eight years of age and owns a small print shop. Divorced and alone, he remains affable nonetheless. His niceness is his undoing however, as no relationship he’s in lasts long enough, simply because he is “too nice.” One night, however, everything changes for George. He is awakened by a strange sound coming from his garden.
“The bird was illuminated only by the moon in the cold, clear winter sky, shades of white, grey and dark against the shadows of his lawn standing there regarding him, its eye a small, golden glint of blinking wet, level with his own, its body as long as he’d been when he was at his teenage gangliest. It looked somehow, he stupidly thought, as if it were on the verge of speaking, as if it would open its pointed, clipped bill and tell him something of vital importance that could only be learnt in a dream and forgotten on the instant of waking” (8).
This great white crane has been shot through the wing with an arrow. George diligently works to save the creature, taking the arrow out of the bird’s wing. The bird, seamlessly as it arrived, flies away, presumably never to be seen again.
A Woman Emerges
The next day, a woman walks into his print shop, a woman named Kumiko. Kumiko asks George to help her with her art: cuttings made from slices of feathers. He falls in love with this enchanting woman, as he is struck by both her beauty and talent.
Based on a Japanese folktale (as well as a Decemberists album of the same name), the fact that George saves a crane only to have her come back as a woman is no spoiler. Traditionally, the man’s greed is his undoing. He sells his wife’s art over and over, not knowing that it’s causing her declining health. The question becomes this: in Ness’ version, will George Duncan meet the inevitable downfall, or will his affability save him?
While I was at first unimpressed with the premise of the tale, I found myself enjoying the novel more and more as it continued. Ness has an ability to write with poignant and enchanting words. He weaves a tale of both passion and sacrifice that resonates with the deepest parts of our humanity. The Crane Wife is a simple tale of imagination and love, and is a wonderful read.
Verdict: 3 out of 5