Cover Image: The Crane Husband

The Crane Husband

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Member Reviews

I like depressing, dark and beautiful books, so it I expected (correctly) to enjoy this one. Incredibly cathartic as well, if you can (unfortunately) relate to it. Would definitely recommend! 100% worth your time.

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I did not anticipate how deeply this novella would affect me. A swift, intense read. Worthy of all the praise.

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An unsettling retelling of the story of the crane wife, Kelly Barnhill's novella tells the story of a teenage girl who tries to protect her younger brother and herself from her widowed mother's new lover, a six-foot tall crane. I don't typically read horror stories or retellings of fairy tales, so I struggled to get into this book, but ultimately the narrator's heroic voice drew me in. I especially appreciated the flashbacks showing the narrator's relationship with her dying father and the setting of a near future where automation has replaced farming by humans. The relationship between the narrator's mother and the crane is a harrowing metaphor of domestic violence.

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Creepily Interesting.

A read that will appeal to lovers of horror, magical realism, speculative fiction, and bold ideas - which is certainly the strangest book I’ve read so far this year.

The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed fifteen-year-old responsible for caring for her younger brother and artist mother after her father passes. One day, her mother brings home a new boyfriend, a crane and instructs the children to call him "father." Things go downhill as the Crane stays longer than expected, the mother stops creating art, and the unnamed narrator has to find creative ways to fend for themselves and their brother.

It is very descriptive and graphic.

A great big thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for an ARC of this book.

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I liked how eerie this was and how quickly I wanted to pummel the man crane. It was easy to feel close to our main character and even empathize with her love sick mother. There were a couple of clunky details but overall this was such a powerful story, especially for how compact it was!

(My review will be included in a wrap up video on my YouTube channel)

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Aside from trying to read as many fairy tales and fantasy books as possible, I also like to read as many books as possible in which women undergo strange, animalistic transformations. Thankfully, these tow interests often overlap, but not always. In the case of The Crane Husband, we find the oddest of things happening in the bleakest of realities. In her sharp and often painful novella, Barnhill explores gendered violence

The Crane Husband is a retelling of the Japanese fairy tale Tsuru Nyōbō, which is retold by the protagonist's father to her on his death bed. A man marries a crane woman, who uses her feathers to create silk brocade. He sells this, while she becomes more and more ill. When he finds out the truth, he asks her to stop but she says she is making the sacrifice for love. In The Crane Husband there is a crueler variation of the tale, also found in Japan, which involves betrayal. Barnhill's novella uses this tale of love, sacrifice, and betrayal in order to explore the themes of generational trauma, mother-daughter relationships, and creativity. Our unnamed protagonist, a young teenager forced to become responsible too soon, sees how her mother creates stories and tapestries out of nothing, how she is capable of creating utter beauty, and yet how she also willingly seems to subject herself to violence for the sake of love and creativity. Seemingly the question is how far one will go in creating and living one's story.

Our narrator lives on a farm with her mother, a famous but reclusive weaver, and her younger brother, Michael. Her father died years ago and since then our narrator is responsible for pretty much everything, from selling her mother's weavings online to buying groceries and getting her brother into bed. But that's fine. It isn't fine, however, once her mother brings home a humongous crane as her lover. The house becomes imbued with violence as the two move from bedroom to studio, leaving blood and feathers behind. Our narrator knows this story must come to an end, one way or another, and she just hopes she can keep her little brother safe. Barnhill conceives of a very grounded and realistic surrounding for her fantastic tale, with ever encroaching farm megacorps and stressed teachers. The switch between this and the fantastical events within the house create something of a whiplash which captures the experience of forcibly growing up too soon. I found myself unable to stop reading as I felt myself become ever more enclosed in this claustrophobic world with our narrator.

What was most stunning to me about The Crane Husband was the way in which Barnhill managed to mingle reality and fantasy. When her mother returns home with a crane, who wears shoes, it feels like you've entered a fable or folk tale. The violence and sense of threat that follows is very real, however. As are the conversations with truancy officers and teachers. Is our narrator looking at a crane or a man? Does it even matter, if she already knows he's a threat? But the fluidity of this figure, the way he stalks through the house and the fields, the way he injures, that is all due to the masterful way in which Barnhill plays with perception and the idea of story-telling. Because in the end our narrator is telling this story and by the end of the novella we must question how reliable she is. Is she telling the story "as it happened" or, as one might fear, is she following in her mother's footsteps and dreaming up beauty amid horror? The Crane Husband engages very directly with domestic violence in ways that are quite affecting. While the structure around it may be fantastical, Barnhill doesn't shy away from depicting both the physical violence and the psychological horror of the situation. This will make it a difficult read for many, but that nonetheless makes it an important read.

The Crane Husband is a fascinating piece of fiction in which the boundary between the real and the fantastic, pain and love, girl and woman are incredibly fragile. It's not an easy read, but a very worthwhile one.

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A poignant look at motherhood, love, and familial relationships- this is a story of the complex emotional bonds, experienced by women, victimized by both their upbringing and domestic situations, that may become the chains of obsession and subjugation. But must they?

A fresh and satisfyingly empowered look at the Japanese fable “the Crane Wife”, I loved this rendition - a read that will appeal to lovers of horror, magical realism, speculative fiction, and bold ideas - which is certainly the strangest book I’ve read so far this year.

As our narrator, a fifteen-year old unnamed daughter and sister, inhabiting a rural farm in what reads like a grim and not-too-distant future, worries about her unstable and mostly absent artist mother, (who is a widow), it’s clear that it will take more than mom’s artistic temperament to explain her strange (and unhealthy) new infatuation with an enormous feathered crane.

Let me be clear. Her feathered companion is not only a crane, but a man-sized, be-speckled crane, who wears a top-hat, has a temperament that reveals itself to be cruel and sinister, and appears to have a squeamishly physical (let alone abusive) relationship with Mother. Who herself is increasingly pulling away from the family unit, now insisting the children identify her sharply-beaked partner as “Father”. Leaving our narrator to assume the care of her much-loved six year old brother, assuming the role (and all the responsibilities) now left vacant by her slowly dissolving parent.

A strange and startling little book, (perhaps more rightly labeled a novella) this story intertwines a newly-messaged crane-centered cross-generational fable, the urgency of a domestic nightmare, and the tale of a traumatized artist’s ill-fated, passionate and all-consuming quest to free herself through her ultimate artistic creation - a visually-intricate, immeasurably complex woven tapestry - as compelling, multi-textured and inescapable as the life-story of the characters it appears to mirror.

Desperate to find a way to free her mother from her dark obsession and release them all from the clutches of their avian tyrant, as the crane-mother pairing becomes confusingly malleable, (and incredibly creepy), freedom, and what exactly that may look like for each member of the family, begins to reveal itself. Freedom that, our narrator realizes, may be attainable - but would, in any case, come at a terrible cost. A cost which may, in fact, be worth it.

All in all a fascinating and compelling read, this book is a rare treat and in the mind of this reader, absolutely not to be missed.

A great big thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for an ARC of this book. All thoughts created are my own.

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“The Crane Husband” by Kelly Barnhill is a surreal, speculative fiction novella about a teenage girl who lives in the not-too-distant future with her widowed mother and little brother in the Midwestern United States. Her mother supports the family financially by weaving and selling elaborate tapestries, but the girl is the one who takes on the responsibility for the majority of the care of her brother, housework and household budgeting. One day, the mother brings home a lover who is a giant crane. At first, the girl assumes it will be another short-lived relationship but the crane stays and the girl must find a way to save her family.

This is a complex and unsettling retelling of “The Crane Wife“, a story from Japanese folklore, that weaves in themes of family violence, control, generational trauma in a lightly science fiction setting. I really liked the way Barnhill captured the narrator’s voice, a teenager who already forced to grow up faster than she should have been following the loss of her father, is faced with even more responsibility and loss of innocence when the crane arrives. There is a dark, brittle urgency about this book that makes it very readable and just enough ambiguity, especially about the true nature of the crane, to keep the reader guessing. I really liked how there was a real juxtaposition between isolation and intimacy, both for the family in the future they live in, but for the mother in her relationship with the crane.

A challenging and engrossing story with many layers.

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3 creepy, intriguing stars
I didn’t enjoy the book, yet I kept reading. The Crane Husband has an ominous tone. It’s not my usual read. The story’s world is dystopian –drones and farming conglomerates, don’t step out of line, the system is watching you.

Barnhill writes descriptively, “from the time of its (the Midwest town) founding on forward, it has remained fixed in place, like a butterfly pinned to a board, left under glass for so long that eventually it becomes no more that husk and faded color and collapsing dust.” Barnhill’s writing is also terse, sharp, dissonant. “There were a lot of executives at these meetings, all polished shoes and PowerPoints and loud guffaws.”

The story is violent, but not overly graphic. Trigger warnings: domestic violence, child neglect. I’m glad I read it. It was well written. It just left me sad.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers. Sadly I actively disliked this book. I won't get into details too much, but I couldn't get over this story being about an actual crane and some of the things insinuated.

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The Crane Husband from Tor Publishing Group
There are some truly astounding visuals here! A masterful fusion of magical realism with capitalist dystopia, set on a farm, or rather around the family farmhouse and adjacent to the farm that isn’t theirs anymore.

This is a story about art and longing and family and loss and neglect, and it is almost unrelentingly bleak, but also full of strength and love

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A Unique fanstasy-sque with a touch of sci-fi novella set in the Midwest. The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed fifteen-year-old responsible for caring for her younger brother and artist mother after her father passes. One day, her mother brings home a new boyfriend, a crane and instructs the children to call him "father." Things go downhill as the Crane stays longer than expected, the mother stops creating art, and the unnamed narrator has to find creative ways to fend for themselves and their brother.

Beautifully written novella about abuse, child neglect, love, grief, and self-worth. Parts of it were quite difficult to read due to the subject matter. The cover art is absolutely beautiful.

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A retelling of The Crane Wife woven into a story of domestic violence, absent parents, and loss. Overall I enjoyed the story with its dreamlike quality, but only enough to see how it ended. I think it just wasn’t for me.

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Probably more of a 3.5 but I’m rounding up.

This is a retelling of the Japanese folktale The Crane Wife and while I couldn’t fully recollect what it was about, it is mentioned in this novella too, so that was a good way to refresh my memory. While the original is about greed, this novella deals with grief, loss, generational trauma, domestic abuse, and survival - and does it so marvelously in just 120 pages.

The writing is absolutely magical - very poetic and lyrical, giving it a fairytale feel, even though the content itself is absolutely horrific at times. We knows it’s set in the American Midwest but there’s not really a clear vision of whether this is the past or some dystopian future, or maybe a combo of the two. But the bleakness of the town, the numbness of drones monitoring the endless farmland, the daily grind of our narrator taking care of everything in her home as well as her mother and little brother while not even bothering about what it’s going to her - it all makes for a heartbreaking but resilient tale of a young woman determined to protect her beloved brother and ensure that he is able to escape this cycle of abuse.

I’m not sure I completely understood every metaphor here, and the power of art and transformation while being an integral part here didn’t really move me. What I loved was our unnamed narrator’s relentless strength and selfless love and the ending was both bittersweet but hopeful. Just go for this short novella if you have some time and want to experience something which is beautifully dark and nightmarish but also full of love.

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I absolutely loved "When Women Were Dragons" and knew I had to pick this one up and it was an amazing new example of Kelly Barnhill's masterful writing when it comes to emotions and the deep inner workings of women's experiences and their relationships with one another. The Crane Husband was a dark and suspenseful short novel that met every emotional punch and then some; each character was crafted beautifully to create a complex story of a girl fighting to keep her family intact while confronting the gender-based roles that have been placed on her and the women in her family historically. A perfect read for those who enjoy literary fiction with unexpected and exciting new elements included.

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Kelly Barnhill’s Crane Husband is nigh perfect.I adored her storytelling and am still thinking about it to this day. Masterfully constructed and achingly gorgeous, I’ve never felt so seen as a woman, as when I read her books.

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This novel is a modern re-telling of the classic Japanese folktale The Crane Wife. It’s set in the mid-Western US. Interesting to read the adaption.

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A strange and dark tale that is cleverly written.
Many thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge and to Netgalley for providing me with a galley in exchange for my honest opinion.

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Thank you to TorDotCom and NetGalley for providing an e-ARC in exchange for my honest review.

I wished I could have loved and truly appreciate this story more, but alas. This was fine. I was intrigued initially since it was a retelling of "The Crane Wife," but I think Kelly Barnhill's writing wasn't for me. I wanted to learn how this version of the story would end, but I was no longer intrigued for more once it ended. It was a full story for a novella despite it not quite meeting my expectations. Domestic abuse is a big theme and content warning for this story, so tread with caution if you choose to read it. I had prolong reading this because I was worried I would not like it. I gave it a chance, but ended up being correct. However, I will say this: it did left me feel a little haunted while reading.

Rating: 2.5 stars

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Mothers fly away like migrating birds. This is why farmers have daughters.”

As a mother myself, I’m struggling to piece together my thoughts after reading The Crane Husband. I’m not sure what I was expecting - a contemporary mythological retelling, maybe a bit of folklore magic? What I got was a heartbreaking look at generational family trauma and an unnamed 15 year old girl’s fight to keep her family together.

Be aware, this is not a happy story. It’s sad and strange and dark. It will break your heart and haunt you long after the final page.

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