National Book Award, Fiction, 2011 Best-selling author Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for this poignant and poetic novel. Unfolding over 12 days, the story follows a poor family living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. With Hurricane Katrina bearing down on them, the Batistes struggle to maintain their community and familial bonds amid the storm and the stark poverty surrounding them.
“Masterful....Salvage the Bones has the aura of a classic about it.” (Washington Post) "Ward’s writing is startling in its graphic clarity.… [This] author has an unusual gift." (Boston Globe) "The novel’s hugeness of heart and fierceness of family grip and hold on like Skeetah’s pit bull." (O: the Oprah Magazine)
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This is a story told through the voice of 14 year old Esch, a young motherless girl living in a family of men. And it's a good one. Living in poverty, a life with few, if any, options and with little hope, she struggles to find tenderness in a world where there's pretty much no room for it. She gives herself, in the name of love, desperate for love in return, but to the wrong person, someone who doesn't see her as a person. No love there. Indeed, this is a brutal book. The only real tenderness and love given without question goes from Esch's brother, Skeetah, to his dog China, a fighting pit bull. And what she does because she loves him is graphically, realistically written in great detail. It's not for the squeamish. But this is part of the culture in Mississippi and thereabouts (when I did animal rescue in New Orleans after Katrina, I swear. I've never seen so many pit bulls in my life!), and people do what they need, or think they need, to do. There are so many poor choices, so many circumstances that go fatally awry that it's hard to read this book and keep a stiff upper lip. Things are bad as they are; do they have to get worse? But it is such a good story, layered well, with intense and full character development. Esch is fleshed out, her character added to by her ability to draw parallels between mythology, something she's reading for school, and the circumstances of her own life. It works very, very well. The only problem with the writing and the narration I had was that both try too hard. Cherise Boothe really captures the voices and tone of the story, but she has a tendency of reading so slowly that I just felt that: Really, I can see that this is important/well done/ beautiful, I don't need such ponderous reading, such pregnant pauses. Also, Jesmyn Ward writes a whole lot of similes. Everything is like this, like that, as this, etc. The only thing that makes this okay and not irritating beyond belief is that what she likens things to wind up being really thought-provoking, really one of a kind images. The end, the aftermath of Katrina, things come together, revelations are made, there are reactions, possible choices. And, though there is personal and environmental devastation, there is, oddly enough, hope. After such brutality throughout the book, you wonder how things can end up so. But really, you look back and find that there were golden threads of beauty all the way through, shining and beckoning to the reader.
Brutal and savage story told almost entirely in the present tense. I found it both repelling and compelling. In my opinion it had little to do with Katrina (the hurricane) and more to do about surviving in a savage land. Most of the descriptive writing is eloquent, but at times it could have used better editing. Now I'm looking for something that does not use the word detritus once.