“George Duncan is an American living and working in London. At forty-eight, he owns a small print shop, is divorced, and lonelier than he realizes. All of the women with whom he has relationships eventually leave him for being too nice. But one night he is woken by an astonishing sound—a terrific keening, which is coming from somewhere in his garden. When he investigates he finds a great white crane, a bird taller than even himself. It has been shot through the wing with an arrow. Moved more than he can say, George struggles to take out the arrow from the bird’s wing, saving its life before it flies away into the night sky.
The next morning, a shaken George tries to go about his daily life, retreating to the back of his store and making cuttings from discarded books—a harmless, personal hobby—when through the front door of the shop a woman walks in. Her name is Kumiko, and she asks George to help her with her own artwork. George is dumbstruck by her beauty and her enigmatic nature, and begins to fall desperately in love with her. She seems to hold the potential to change his entire life, if he could only get her to reveal the secret of who she is and why she has brought her artwork to him.
Witty, magical, and romantic, The Crane Wife is a story of passion and sacrifice, that resonates on the level of dream and myth. It is a novel that celebrates the creative imagination, and the disruptive power of love.”
Thoughts: There is nothing flashy about The Crane Wife. It is a simple story simply told, one that relies on the beauty of the words rather than action and suspense. This makes sense in the fact that Mr. Ness is retelling a folktale. It does not need anything other than gorgeous imagery and even better prose to highlight the story’s charms and lessons, something at which Mr. Ness excels.
There is a poetic quality, not only to the narrative but also in the characters, that makes The Crane Wife so compelling. George is a bit of a recluse by choice and still struggling to come to terms with the loneliness that resulted from his divorce. In fact, he may be one of the few people in which being “too nice” is a character flaw. However, his awakening upon Kumiko’s arrival is spectacular to behold. While he remains a genuinely nice guy – eager to please and selfless – his love for Kumiko brings about new feelings and emotions within him that are exciting and build tension. He is jealous and like a jilted lover at times, especially when she refuses to let him into her house or answer his increasingly frantic questions. It is a metamorphosis that is fascinating to watch unfold in that it emphasizes the all-encompassing power that love can have.
By incorporating the original folktale behind The Crane Wife into the narrative, the suspense within the story is not a result of concern for George and Kumiko but rather a curiosity at how this fable with its volcano and crane will play out in George’s life. That the poem upon which Kumiko bases her work is an allegory for Kumiko herself is no surprise. The mystery lays in how it will all fit together, the fable and the fiction, the metaphors with the realistic. The careful method by which Mr. Ness pieces everything together only heightens a reader’s appreciation for his ability to craft a story.
Because The Crane Wife is not necessarily an original piece, Mr. Ness focuses on his craft, and the results are obvious. The Crane Wife is one of the most beautiful pieces of fiction in recent months. It traverses the lands of fable and fiction, poetry and prose without a single hiccup. The flawless transitions make for superb reading, as does the care with which he brings George and Kumiko’s relationship to life. The simplicity and tragedy of the story as well as the impeccable prose create a gorgeous novel on the cyclical and far-reaching aspects of love.