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.