Avid online readers may already have encountered this book’s titular essay, In 2019, CJ Hauser, a little-known novelist, used a Gulf Coast bird-watching trip and a Japanese folk tale to explain why she had recently backed out of marrying her cheating fiancé, and when The Paris Review published the essay, it went viral. The folk tale is about a crane who plucks out all her feathers each night so that the man who marries her will continue mistaking her for a woman. Hauser, “a playful, energetic, and always likable writer,” confessed in that essay that she was fighting a tendency to such self-erasure, and her new book advances that personal mission. As I was reading it, “I kept thinking about all of the people in my life into whose hands I can’t wait to put The Crane Wife.”
Unfortunately, this “bloated,” unnecessary collection “tries to pull off the same trick over and over again,” Having been awarded a big contract to produce a book that capitalizes on the popularity of the title essay, Hauser “writes herself into a corner” by devoting all 17 essays to the same subject: how she’s gradually learned to resist social expectations about how her romantic life should unfold. Though the 38-year-old writing professor remains “eminently readable” in brief gulps, she never varies her structural formula, and many of the lessons she draws from her experiences “feel stale even before they are recycled.” But the book enacts ongoing self- discovery, and Hauser’s mature perspective on relationships proves “startingly” singular, In refusing to accept that a successful life requires finding a perfect partner, she presents a “fresh and even radical” worldview.
“Does a book so relentlessly focused on one person’s pursuit of intimacy feel claustrophobic at times?”. Inevitably, yes it does. But as Hauser points out, a person can’t just forget the stories of past relationships, and “the question of what they all add up to when your dating life somehow extends into your late 30s and beyond, by which time you’re most likely a quite different person, becomes one of the collection’s more intriguing preoccupations.” Hauser also works in “a zany range of other subjects,” including humanoid first responders, but she remains focused primarily on her evolving understanding of love. “Though it can feel strained, it’s predominantly mesmerizing to watch.”