*Caution if you read. Spoilers abound.
“A swamp knows all about death,” the book states in its opening page, “and doesn’t necessarily define it as tragedy, certainly not a sin”, instantly blurring the lines between good and evil, right and wrong, murder and death - between justice and revenge.
I should have known from the very beginning that Kya murdered Chase Andrews, but I didn’t. Because I was too busy hoping and believing it was someone else. Chase’s wife, Tate, some jealous sole from the town, like the police officers pondered at one point. I hoped Chase fell on his own and that the swamp covered his tracks, like it did for the many critters that wandered the wild marsh. At one point I remember thinking, “I really don’t care who it is or how he died, just so long as Kya is innocent!” I wanted her to rise above her shitty and devastating experiences, to prove to the townspeople and their better-than-though smugness that they were wrong. Dead wrong. I wanted her to be better than everyone because I believed she was. Because I believed she was innocent.
Then, the prying mantis ate her mate and I knew Delia Owens would not deliver what I wanted. And when Amanda Hamilton turned out to be Kya, I closed my eyes and shook my head ever so slightly because I knew, instantly, that Tate would find the necklace, that Kya was indeed a murderer, and that her life, her story would somehow be seen as right and good and beautiful. Even though she killed a man. Even though she never told her true and loyal love what she’d done. Even though she never sought forgiveness or attempted reconciliation.
And for that, for ending Kya’s story different than what I had hoped for, I am grateful. Because then I would have nothing to think about, to talk about, or to write about.
Chase Andrews had to die. He had to. Because fiction writing isn’t parallel to reality. It is slightly askew to it, starting off simple and relatable and little more than almost boring. But then, almost without notice, it begins to elevate and reach for a greater and higher truth than what we often experience here on Earth. It manifests what we know, what we think we know, and what we believe to be true and asks, is this really what you meant? Are you still on board? Is this really good and right and true? Which is why Chase Andrews had to die, because he isn’t just the antagonist, he’s Evil, the Villain, and the Thief in the Night. And we have always pondered how we as a society, as human beings, should handle such people. And Delia Owens provides us with a possible answer, much like Harper Lee did with Bob Ewell, but with one seemingly insignificant difference. A difference that, over time, makes all the difference in the world.
In To Kill A Mockingbird Bob Ewell not only beat his daughter, accused an innocent man of raping his daughter, and attacked two young defenseless children in the dead of night, he preyed on the weak. Something Atticus Finch thought was abhorrent at best. “As you grow older,” Atticus says to Gem, shortly after the case of Tom Robinson concluded, “you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash . . . There’s nothing more sickening to me than a low-grade white man who’ll take advantage of a Negro’s ignorance.”
“That man is trash”, Attics says, and like all trash that gathers around the house and yard, it should be tossed out and gotten rid of rather then left unattended where it can rot and stink and attract other trash-eating varmints. And that is exactly what Harper Lee and Delia Owens did. They threw out the trash. But I can only smell it still on Delia Owens and Kya, because unlike Boo Radley, they meant to kill their evil. Boo Radley meant to defend the kids. Kya planned it, prepared it, and executed it with a calculated coldness often reserved for monsters. Boo Radley protected the poor, the innocent, and the disadvantaged. Kya protected herself.
I know that sounds cold and heartless and completely detached from the plight of a young girl who has been abused her whole life, survived a rape, and who now feels hunted and tortured by a man who is heralded and protected by the greater and stronger society that shuns her, but hear me out because I’m not mad or frustrated at Kya - how could I be? I am mad and frustrated at Delia Owens. And for good reason. She created a monster, and called it beautiful.
“Tate got special permission,” Owens writes, “for her to be buried on her land under an oak overlooking the sea, and the whole town came out for the funeral. Kya would not have believed the long lines of slow-moving mourners . . . Some curiosity-seeks attended” Owens continues, “but most people came out of respect for how she had survived years alone in the wild the little girl, dressed in an oversized, shabby coat, boating to the wharf, walking barefoot to the grocery to buy grits” (pg 364).
“Respect for how she had survived years alone in the wild.” By the end of the novel, we all - you, me, the townspeople - have grown to respect Kya for a myriad of reasons, but perhaps none more than her fighting spirit. We know what it means to experience hardship, to feel that the world is against us (if even for a short time), and to stand before a crushing disappointment of shattered dreams. Which is why we connect so quickly and so deeply with Kya. Because she is the heightened embodiment of our daily struggles. It’s also why her actions, to murder, to lie, and to deceive, are so fantastically dangerous. Because she is the heightened embodiment of our daily struggles, and our sometimes, our daily fantasies.
If Kya were to have killed Chase Andrews much like Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell, there would be a mutual understanding and even a sigh of relief. Because the garbage would have been taken out and Kya left clean and unblemished. If one of the townspeople, say one of the fishermen who witnessed the rape, had taken care of problem, there would even be a celebration because it would have been a tangible act that the people really did respect her, that they knew what was happening, and that they wouldn’t stand for it. Especially if it were Tate’s dad who did the dead. Oh man, think how poetic THAT would have been. How beautiful the lines, “A swamp knows all about death, and doesn’t necessarily define it as tragedy, certainly not a sin” would have been; how many tears of joy and sadness and hope we would have shed.
But instead, we are asked to mourn the death and celebrate the life of a cold blooded killer, a woman who not only painstaking planned the killing of another human being, but pf someone who delighted in that killing. Consider her poem, “The Firefly”
Luring him was as easy
As flashing valentines
But like a lady firefly
They hid a secret call to die.
A final touch,
The last step, a trap.
Down, down he falls,
His eyes still holding mine
Until they see another world.
I saw them change.
First a question,
Then an answer,
Finally an end.
And love itself passing
To whatever it was before it began.
Delia Owens writes these words with a joy and satisfaction akin to that of a child who is celebrating the task of completing a 5000 piece puzzle. Only instead of celebrating the art of creation, she’s celebrating the act of destruction.
Even animals don’t do that.
A firefly deceives and preying mantis coerces in order to eat another of their kind, but neither do so with malice or joy in their heart. They merely do it for survival. Which I get the connection to Kya, that she was also killing out of survival, but then she celebrated her kill by keeping a token of her hunt - like a prized deer mounted upon her wall. Boo Radley committed his crime by accident, out of protection for another, and then admitted his crime. Even to the point of coming out of hiding to do so! In contrast, Kya tucked herself in and hid from the rest of the world. Even from her beloved Tate. Which, to me, is her worst offense of all. Because it shows her true heart and truer self.
“eople are willing to override a relatively long period of one kind of behavior with a relatively short period of another kind just because it occurs at the end of one’s life,” Daniel Pink writes in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. “This is called, ‘end of life bias,’” he continues, suggesting “that we believe people’s true selves are revealed at the end” (pg. 155). This has major implications for two reasons.
One, up until the end, Kya was an unrepentant murderer, a deceiver, and in many ways unfaithful to the one good and true love of her life. Wouldn’t you be pissed to find that your spouse of your life never told you the deepest secret of their life?
And two, because of the story arc with which Delia Owens chooses to tell her story, it is at the end that we find out her terrible deed and therefore has no time to redeem herself. Her being a murderer who holds onto her victims necklace is the last image and understanding of her, leaving us to believe that that is her true self. Not, as Owens would have us believe, “the little girl, dressed in an oversized, shabby coat, boating to the wharf, walking barefoot to the grocery to buy grits.”
Our lasting image of Boo Radley is that of a scared, antisocial young man who has stepped from the shadows to save to kids, thus washing away any and all sins or crimes or social missteps he might have committed. Kya on the other hands sinks back into the shadows of the unknown, of a woman who committed a terrible crime, and who never once thought it right to seek absolution. If even just from her husband.
But that’s easy for me to say. I’ve never been someone’s prey. Which is why I loved this ending. Because it forces me to consider what life would be life from another’s perspective. What it would be like to feel cornered and threatened and hunted by someone who is not only physically bigger and stronger than myself, but who is also protected by the greater and larger society.
I guess I just wanted Kya to be different than the animals she loved. I wanted her to be human, but more so than any one of us. I wanted her to be Chase Andrews’ antithesis and our answer to pain and sorrow and hurt and fear. Instead, she became not unlike any one of us and more like Chase than I think Delia Owens intended.
Chase Andrews had to die. He had to. Because fiction writing isn’t parallel to reality. It is slightly askew to it, starting off simple and relatable and little more than almost boring. But Kya didn’t have to kill him. Someone else should have. Anyone else. Because “A swamp knows all about death and doesn’t necessarily define it as tragedy, certainly not a sin.” But we do.
And Kya murdering Chase Andrews was a tragedy. For her, for Delia Owens, and most importantly for us. We deserve better.
Do I really have to explain why? Again?
For more on . . .