Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Published August 2011 by Bloomsbury USA
Source: purchased at my local indie bookstore for this month's book club selection

Winner of the National Book Award 2011

Publisher's Summary:
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting.

As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family-motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce-pulls itself up to face another day.

My Thoughts:
I live in the suburbs where life is, for the most part, pretty damn easy. We drive reliable cars; we stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer in our homes; we have good jobs, plenty to eat, new clothes when we need them (and, more often, just because we want them), insurance to help protect us from catastrophe. It can be easy to become complacent, to forget that not everyone is as fortunate as we are.

Jesmyn Ward will not allow us to forget and she will not let us turn away.

I cannot stop thinking about the Batiste children. I don't I will stop thinking about them for a long while. About their bond and their love for each other. About Skeetah's love for China, the dog who will fight for him, who will love him unconditionally, who might just be his way to save his family. About Randall and his quiet presence and the way he dealt with the loss of hope. About Junior who wants so desperately to be one of the big kids.

But mostly I will think of Esch, a young, motherless girl who doesn't have anyone to tell her that she is being abused by the boys she allows to have sex with her.
“And it was easier to let him keep on touching me than ask him to stop, easier to let him inside than to push him away, easier than hearing him ask me, "Why not?" It was easier to keep quiet and take it than to give him an answer.”
Seriously, don't you just want to hug her? She is smart enough to be able to relate the myth of Medea to her own life. But she is also naive enough to believe that a boy that won't look at her while he's having sex with her, who lives with another girl, will come to love her as much as she loves him. She desperately tries to hide her pregnancy, as much to protect her brothers as to protect herself. She knows that the boys in her life will fight for her honor much as the dogs they raise fight.

I loved the writing. It is beautiful and cruel and just when you think something terrible will happen, Ward lets you off easy. Until she doesn't. Ward and her family survived Hurricane Katrina, riding it out in their cars after abandoning their home as it filled with water. When she writes about Katrina crashing into Bois Sauvage, it is incredibly tense and real and I could not put the book down in the final 80 pages.
“I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”
Salvage The Bones is not an easy read. But if you feel willing to face the world beyond your doorstep, I highly recommend it. Even if you'd prefer not to, I still recommend it.

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