The Crane Husband

Tor.com. Feb. 2023. 128p. ISBN 9781250850973. $19.99. FANTASY
A teen in a fading Midwestern farm town takes care of her younger brother while their artist mother is preoccupied with work and lovers. Their mother’s attention strays further with the arrival of an enormous crane that she welcomes into the family. Threatened by the crane’s violent intrusion, their mother’s growing obsession with her newest artwork, and an investigating social worker, the narrator tries to protect her family. The novella is inspired by the folktale of the crane wife but what at first seems like a straightforward gender swap evolves to explore the boundaries between love and obligation. Readers are likely to grasp the sympathetic narrator’s situation much earlier than she does.
VERDICT Beyond retelling a folktale, Barnhill (When Women Were Dragons) constructs nuanced characters with conflicting motivations and loyalties. The plot is sometimes slow-moving as readers wait for the narrator to catch up, but it arrives at a thought-provoking conclusion.
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