A fifteen-year-old teenager is the backbone of her small Midwestern family, budgeting the household finances and raising her younger brother while her mother, a talented artist, weaves beautiful tapestries. For six years, it's been just the three of them—her mother has brought home guests at times, but none have ever stayed. Yet when her mother brings home a six-foot tall crane with a menacing air, the girl is powerless to prevent her mom letting the intruder into her heart, and her children's lives.
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 ... The plot is sometimes slow-moving as readers wait for the narrator to catch up, but it arrives at a thought-provoking conclusion.
In bleak but beautiful prose, Barnhill maintains the original fable’s examination of female exploitation at the hands of male partners and the limits of self-sacrifice, while also touching on more contemporary themes like drone surveillance and the commodification of art. The depiction of the perpetual cycle of abuse may be too depressing for some, but fans of dark, surreal fantasy will be enthralled.