The story of the crane wife is a Japanese folk tale, “Tsuru Nyōbō,” a variant of Tsuru no Ongaeshi (Crane’s return of a favor). I learned it because of The Decemberists album based on the tale. It is story of a crane, helped by a man, who then disguises herself in human form to aid her rescuer, practicing great self-sacrifice to do so. Eventually she is discovered to be a crane and must leave, much to the despair of the man who has fallen in love with her.
Patrick Ness has written a beautiful novel rooted in that story. He transcends the potentially dangerous gender lines of the folk tale by instead revealing the fear, courage, cruelty, and kindness in all of us. Writing a story about how much we need other people, even if only two or three. Barebones summary: The story begins as a man hears a keening outside his London window in the small hours of the morning. He goes outside to find a crane with an arrow in its wing. He helps the crane, and the next day a mysterious woman comes into his print shop and everything changes.
My first experience with Ness was with his Chaos Walking series, which is great, and I was excited to read something so different from him. With The Crane Wife he tells a story that is simple and grounded, which is impressive since the story is rooted in myth and magic. He always presents that myth and magic in ordinary ways, simply allowing his metaphors to take flesh within the pages.
Ness delivers a moving illustration of the way each of us is afraid, each of us capable of destruction and creation, and each of us needs someone to see us for who we really are and offer us forgiveness for all those small and large things we are secretly ashamed of.
It is also a story about story. My favorite passage to that end feels like it is lifted right out of my master’s thesis: “No, a story is not an explanation, it is a net, a net through which the truth flows. The net catches some of the truth, but not all, never all, only enough so that we can live with the extraordinary without it killing us … as it surely, surely would.”
You should think about spending some time with this lovely little book.