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“The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh’s moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog.” So begins Delia Owens’s novel, Where the Crawdads Sing (2018), featured on the New York Times bestseller list for the past sixty weeks.

That sentence reveals the author’s poetic bent, her intimate experience with the flora and fauna of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and her working knowledge of multiple archetypes sprinkled throughout this novel.

Owens’s images clamor with sensuousness, plunge us within teeming interludes of sounds, tastes, and colors, even repulse us with the stink and humidity and sudden squalls of trackless swamps. This subtle interplay of violence and gentleness forms a pastiche of strange beauty that fascinates and invites even deeper engagement with the next image.

Within this setting, Owens unfolds the story of six-year-old Kya, abandoned by her alcoholic father, her battered mother, and her siblings. Alone in the family’s rough-hewn shack, Kya assuages her orphan heart by communing with Big Red and other herring gulls on the beach. From them and other creatures scuttling atop blistery sands and foraging the forest floor, she intuits the laws of nature: they become her life teachers. So keen is her learning that a certain fierceness tinges her character causing the townspeople of Barcley Cove to scapegoat her as the Marsh Girl. No one cares enough to learn her name. Colored Town also carries their judgment, several decades from the1965 Civil Rights legislation.

Such prejudices nudge our own, mired within swamp-psyches, and beg for release—undoubtedly the universal appeal of this novel.



The British author, Salley Vickers, spins a women’s healing tale in her novel, The Cleaner of Chartres (2012). Set in the medieval town of Chartres, the twin spires of its world-renowned cathedral, dedicated to Our Lady, have imbued the lives of its residents and pilgrims praying at this sacred site since the fourth century, AD. This influence is also felt in this novel.

The protagonist, Agnes Morel, is an illiterate, single, fortyish woman whose penchant for bright colors enhances her swarthy skin and long black hair. A foundling, she was raised by the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in a neighboring town, and twenty years before, had made her way to Chartres to make a living. Her simple willingness continues touching everyone she serves. Besides cleaning for an old professor and the canon of the cathedral, posing for the local artist, babysitting, she also scrubs the labyrinth inside the west portal of the cathedral. Known only to her, however, burns a shameful experience. She is a woman of few words.

We also meet the antagonist, Madame Beck, a balding mean-spirited widow who frequents her “lace curtain watchtower” in her apartment in Old Town to observe the interactions of passersby below. In the eyes of Madame Beck, however, Agnes is too good. A chance discovery of old newspaper clippings that cast Agnes in a suspicious light sets loose Madame Beck’s gossip. Terrified, Agnes hides in the dark crypt of the cathedral, lest the authorities find her. In agony, she waits long hours, until discovered by Alain, a restoration expert working in the cathedral. A touching scene beneath the gaze of the Blue Virgin window gifts Agnes with the sense of her own motherhood.

Amazing synchronicities eventually reveal the resolution of Agnes’s shame and guilt and the cause of Madame Beck’s pique; the former restored to an even fuller life with Alain; and the latter, fresh truth about her poisonous attitude and the need for a retreat with a community of sisters.

Thus, evidence of transforming grace enhances each page of this novel. And the maternal hovering of Chartres Cathedral, itself, welcomes the reader into these sacred mysteries of the Feminine.





Available on Amazon

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