Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This past spring, I participated in World Book Night - a national day to hand out a selection of books for free to folks who may not really be readers. I chose "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" - click here to go back and read more about that interesting experience. I noticed today that this book is one of the one's selected for next spring. Its a good pick that will definitely get people thinking. After Katrina, and then most recently, the SuperStorm Sandy along the East Coast, and the many floods and storms that dot our news radar, I think we all get a little jittery when there's any threat of an inch or more of rain. And at some level, we all have to make a decide whether we can survive the potential damage or not. And when the sun comes out - we find out if we were right or wrong.
It took me longer to read this book then it really should because I usually wait 'til I've climbed in the bed at the end of a long day to read. Okay, maybe more information than you really need for a book review, but it does serve a point - this isn't the book to read as you are fighting your eyelids. That said, I do like this book. Jesmyn Ward has pretty, lyrical writing, even when describing a dog fight or tangle with a tractor. Some of her writing is so pretty, when something bad happens, it catches you by surprise.
The book opens with a pitbull in labor - I know, makes you wonder where's this story going, right? We then meet Skeetah, the owner of the dog; Randall, his older brother; Junior, their baby brother; and their sister, Esch, our main character, a tomboy-ish, yet sexually promiscuous girl, hanging out with her brothers and their friends, figuring out that she's pregnant. They're being raised by their usually drunk father, having lost their mother when she died after giving birth to the youngest brother. As I moved through the story, I saw China, the pitbull, as a metaphor for the kids' lives. She (the dog) is the primary mother figure, the one Esch looks to for a model of what motherhood looks like.
The suspense in the story is not only built into the pace of Ward's writing, but the timing of the story. Its set in a rural area in Mississippi days before Hurricane Katrina. You want to yell through the pages "get the dog, get your dad, and get out of town!" while at the same time, wondering how or if, this family is going to survive. You revisit those questions that ran through the nation's head as we watched the waters flood New Orleans - why didn't they get out? What were they thinking? What are they going to do now? Ward provides some answers, at least for this family. They were pulling the framing out of their attic for plywood to board up the house and were eating Ramen noodles for every meal every day. They clearly did not have the means to evacuate, and if so, they weren't getting far in the not-really-running pickup truck sitting in the dirt yard.
Salvage the Bones is a story of love and desperation, and the things that happen when those two strong feelings are confused one for another.
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