Saturday, April 21, 2012

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones takes place over twelve days told in twelve chapters surrounding Hurricane Katrina.  The main character, Esch is the only girl living in a family of rambunctious boys.  Her mother died during childbirth and her father is an alcoholic stumbling through life and struggling to help his family survive.  The family lives in a trailer home on the pit in Mississippi near the Gulf of Mexico.  Esch is in high school and her summer homework entails reading Mythology by Edith Hamilton.  As Esch narrates the story of her life with the hurricane knocking on her door, the Greek myth of Medea and Jason sail through the pages alongside her.  

The Batiste family contains, Esch who is 14, pregnant by a man who doesn't care about her.  Skeetah who owns a fighting pitbull named China whom he has pinned all his hopes on and loves like a sibling.  Randall is Esch's oldest brother who is a great basketball player and has high hopes to play ball in college.  Junior was the last child born to his mother and was raised by his siblings, Randall and Esch who cared for the child after their mother died.  This is one family who has suffered through tragedy and endured.  Their ability to love and endure through tragedy and triumph is so heartfelt and touching. 

After I read the first chapter of Salvage the Bones, I realized this book is not for everyone.  Some people will choose to give up on it and quit reading because of the dog fighting and the stark brutality of the story.  I read through the pain and at the end survived with the reality that Salvage the Bones is one damn good book.  Jesmyn Ward's beautiful metaphoric language is so gritty and poetic.  Salvage the Bones hits you like a hurricane and throws you hard up against the wall.  It is hard not to feel like you just survived the storm when you finish the book. 

Salvage the Bones is based on the author's personal experience during Hurricane Katrina.  Her family lives in a trailer home on the coast like Esch and her family and when the hurricane hit they had to escape their home due to the winds and flooding.   They drove a mile down the road to the neighbors and according to an interview with The Guardian,, Thursday 1 December 2011 Ward states, "Me, my mom, my mom's husband, my elderly grandmother, my grandfather and my pregnant sister, who at eight months was very big. We're soaking wet because we've had to scramble out of the house and swim part of the way. And they open up the door. And the wind is rocking the car and they're yelling at us and we're yelling back at them because it's the only way we can be heard, and trees are flying through the air. They shout: 'Are y'all all right?' And we're like: 'Are you serious? We're sitting outside in a category-five hurricane. Do we look O-OK?'" She stutters. "And they said: 'Well, y'all can sit outside in this field, until the water goes down, but we don't have room for you in the house. We can't let you in.' And I thought: this is some bullshit."  Taken from an article in The Guardian,Thursday 1 December 2011(3rd Paragraph).

In my opinion, Salvage the Bones is destined to be a book read in high school and college classrooms and will join the canon of great books by Southern Writers.  Beware this book packs a mean punch.   Ward reminds me of Flannery O'Connor.

Salvage the Bones won the National Book Award in 2011.   Make no bones about it, this book is Amazing.