A story that is intensely raw and compelling for readers


The Crocodile Bride

Ashleigh Bell Pedersen

Hub City Press

Paperback, ISBN-13: 978-1938235917, 296 pgs.

May 10, 2022     


“If a person could unfold the map of their own history out before them, perhaps there could be, too, a way to see the present day on that map too―to look and see which dots or which lines looked strange, and where they led, so that you could make anything wrong right again.”

The marks of domestic violence are often hidden under long sleeves, behind sunglasses, and within a shattered heart. The oily residue of discontent and helplessness in a relationship can be unwittingly passed down to the next generation, creating a recurrent swamp filled with flotsam born from heartache, confusion, and lost dreams. In The Crocodile Bride, Ashleigh Bell Pedersen’s debut novel, three women across three generations have been mired in unhealthy relationships, punctuated by physical and emotional cruelty.

The main story is told from the viewpoints of Louise “Lou” Turner and her eleven-year-old niece, Sunshine, in Fingertip, Louisiana, in 1982, with flashbacks to Lou’s mother, Catherine, in the 1950s, and with the occasional foray into the tale of a crocodile in a swamp near Fingertip and his beautiful human bride. The story of the crocodile bride is a fable told to sleepy children, but, as with many fairy tales, the story is a dark one, with some remnants of truth. The imagery of casting a sacrifice into a frightful quagmire shows the lengths people will go to cleanse themselves of sin, desperation, and misery when they feel they have no other recourse, but only if they furnish a treasured gift to feed the crocodile’s insatiable appetite to please his bride. This legend is rooted in both allegory and experience, with ineffable anguish pushing people into a swamp that is both real and symbolic of the last hope for rescue and redemption. The sacrificial acts of suffering and giving up a treasure, which could even be a life, are as old as time and burgeon spectacularly The Crocodile Bride.

Sunshine shares the protagonist stage with her Aunt Lou, but the overall story is primarily a bildungsroman, with Sunshine teetering on the cusp of womanhood but with only her older cousin and aunt to guide and protect her, albeit somewhat inadequately. Sunshine must navigate the minefield of adolescence and her growing discomfiture of living in a yellow house that is prone to figurative emotive flooding based on her father’s moods. She is naturally confused by her changing body, but her father, Billy, adds to the turmoil when his behavior toward his only child begins to slide into the detrimental and inappropriate.

While Pedersen does not dive too far into the explicit, she does not soften the edges of injurious familial conduct, providing a story that is intensely raw and compelling for readers who understand the hard truth that women and children are often thrown into grotesque situations where internal scars linger long after external wounds or impure fingerprints have faded. The overall mood throughout The Crocodile Bride is somber and sometimes distressing but still entertaining, with rhythmic and expressive prose resonating and leaving a lingering impact on the reader, possibly encouraging reflection and self-recovery. No one is immune when family reveals its grisly side, but Sunshine and Lou show us that we have the incredible capacity to forgive, heal, listen to one another, and keep moving forward, always.

Ashleigh Bell Pedersen’s fiction has been featured in New Stories from the South, The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, Design Observer, The Silent History, A Strange Object, and the New York Public Library’s Library Simplified app. Her story “Small and Heavy World” was a finalist for both Best American Short Stories and a Pushcart Prize, and her story "Crocodile" won The Masters Review 2020 Flash Fiction Contest. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh, where she was the recipient of a teaching fellowship and Turow-Kinder Award. She currently resides in Austin, Texas where she writes, acts in theater and film, and attempts to teach her dog, Ernie, proper leash manners.