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{October 4, 2019}   {Review} Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

From Goodreads: 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, while 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 comprise the novel’s framework yield to the final day and Hurricane Katrina, the unforgettable family at the novel’s heart—motherless children sacrificing for each other as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to struggle for another day. A wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.


Overall, Jesmyn Ward creates extremely vivid, real portrayals of life, her words floating off the page, creating mostly beautiful imagery as her stories unfold, though truth be told, some of this imagery I could do without. This is the second novel of Ward’s that I’ve read, and I truly to believe her prose is poetic, though some of it might be just a bit too overpowering. Ward has written three novels to date, and while I have not yet read the third, the two I have read both begin with blood, and in this vivid tale of abject poverty and woe, it begins with the birthing of puppies. While extremely important to the story, Wards descriptions of afterbirth and squelches definitely made me a bit ill. Dry wretching ill. I was lucky enough to borrow the audible of this novel from my library, and let me tell you, driving down the highway at 5 in the morning listening to the audible narrator, Cherise Boothe, describe a pitbull giving birth was an experience. Ward definitely has a way with words. A gift.

Salvage the Bones is Ward’s first novel, and it’s the only one she’s written that deals specifically with hurricane Katrina, though all her novels take place in Mississippi around the same time. It is a very poignant novel, one that stays with you for days after all is said and done, but at the same time, I felt that too much time was spent leading up to the storm, building up the characters and focusing on things I was less interested in, such as dog fighting, and not enough time assessing the severity of Katrina or how the family attempts to survive throughout–it is a storm that none of them take seriously, save pop, until it is too late. The characters are all extremely realistic, and Esch broke my heart, but at the same time, I wanted so badly to reach through the pages and knock sense into these children running amuck. They don’t know any better, their father is distant and their mother is dead, but between Esch’s search for “love” in all the wrong places and Skeetah’s sole care in the world being his pitbull that he forces to fight, I found myself getting angry with them. Perhaps it’s projection, because as the reader, there is literally nothing I can do to help any of them, but I still wish I could.

Personally, I don’t care about dog fighting, and Ward spends a lot more time fleshing out that sordid world than I would have liked. When the storm comes raging against their shack, I expected the novel to come even more alive, but it was over just as quickly as it began, and I was saddened by this. Now, I enjoyed this novel, don’t get me wrong, but I definitely finished it wanting more. I feel like the story just isn’t over, all this time and effort went into fleshing out these characters, but in the end, nothing changes. There is no win for anyone, and that made this one tough on me. Three stars.

I borrowed the audible of this novel from the library.

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