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Friday, September 30, 2022

Book review of The Crane Wife by CJ Hauser

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Ten days after ending her engagement, CJ Hauser (Family of Origin) joined a scientific expedition to study cranes. She felt like a fraud: Should a person take such a trip days after a relationship’s end? Should a writer—a novelist, no less—take up space on a scientific excursion?

As she wrestles with these questions in the titular essay of The Crane Wife, which received over one million views after its July 2019 publication by The Paris Review, Hauser compares the dissolution of her relationship with her ex-fiancé to the tale of the crane wife. In that fable, the bird wants so desperately to be with a man that she spends every night plucking her feathers, tricking him into seeing her as a human woman. She withers, ignoring her own needs, but succeeds in becoming what she thinks the man wants.

The 16 other pieces in Hauser’s memoir-in-essays likewise explore love’s many forms with frank, raw honesty, charting an artful path through one woman’s experiences. Hauser often draws from both myth and the mundane as she seeks to understand her relationship to the world. She explores the aftermath of romantic relationships, particularly those in which she lost her connection to not only a partner but also his child, as well as an array of her particular fascinations, such as with The Wizard of Oz and with the romance between Mulder and Scully in “The X-Files.” Hauser’s wry, introspective investigation of her assumptions about love will likely free readers to examine their own personal narratives as well.

Sometimes Hauser intentionally peels apart commonly intertwined ideas. For example, in “Uncoupling,” she challenges her ideas about parenthood and her body. Hauser separates the ideas of being a parent, giving birth and dating someone she might want to parent alongside. As she examines these desires, Hauser also interrogates her body: What are her tits (her word of choice) for if they aren’t for feeding someone or giving someone else pleasure? She explicitly rejects the idea that her body exists to serve other people and asks, “Who told you these things went together? What stories were you told, and not told, about the shape of love, the shape of yourself, the shape of a happy life?”

When her writing students claim that Hauser dislikes happy endings, she turns the whole idea of happy endings on its head. “The rare happy ending I appreciate is one that makes room for the whole painful fact of the world at the same time it offers the reader some joy,” she writes. The Crane Wife embraces this philosophy again and again as Hauser excavates her past loves and losses, thoughtfully examines them and declares the pain of love to be worth the risk.



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