Title: Salvage the Bones
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Genre: Literary Fiction
Where I got it:The publisher, through TLC Book Tours
Welcome to the TLC TOUR for Salvage the Bones!
Jesmyn Ward's second novel, Salvage the Bones, is an incredibly brutal, incredibly beautiful book. It tells the story of 14 year-old Esch, who realizes that she is pregnant in the days before Hurricane Katrina hits her small town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Meanwhile, her brother Skeet's prize fighting pit bull has given birth to a litter of puppies, who are fighting to enter a world that is turning upside down, and is not very hospitable to begin with. I am going to stop summarizing the book, because for some reason that seems to cheapen it, to turn it in to some sort of soap opera when that isn't what it is. Ward's prose is stunning, but what really resonates in the novel for me are the relationships, both complicated and real.
At the center of the novel is the relationship between Skeet and his dog, China. China is a fighting dog, and the relationship between dog and master is depicted in the novel as one of the most desperate, the most intense. Skeet loves China like a baby, and she trusts him and only him, completely. Esch watches the relationship between her brother and the dog, and compares it to the fantasy love she would feel from Manny, the father of her unborn baby. "He knows love," she repeats, referring to what Skeet feels for China as he builds her a house, or buys her expensive food. She wants Manny to feel the same uncomplicated love, which on the flip side is brutal - Skeet forces China to fight. And in contrast is the gentle, brotherly love that Esch feels not only from her biological kin, but from the emblematically, soft-handed Big Henry whose comfort is in sharp contrast to the savage, violent love she feels for Manny.
Familial relationships are important in the story as well, especially those between mothers and children. China is a new mother, and again pregnant Esch, sees the violence in her relationship to her offspring, and wonders how she will love her own. Her own mother died birthing her youngest brother Junior, and Esch and her brother were left to mother him together. The family bonds between them all are strong, and their mother is the absent center of it all, even tying their father, a raging alcoholic, often absent- to the family by a thin thread. During the hurricane, "Daddy" grabs a bag full of pictures to salvage from the flooding:
For a moment, Mama is there next to him on the sofa, her arm laid across his lap while she palms his knee, which is how she sat with him when they watched TV together. I wonder if that is phantom pain, and if Daddy will feel his missing fingers the way we feel Mama, present in the absence.The story becomes about that absence, and who fills it: Skeet for China when she proves too fierce to care for her kin, and the siblings for one another holding only onto the memory of their mother.
The story is heart-breaking, but there is a broken kind of hope throughout: in the love between Esch and her brothers, in the book that Esch keeps reading for school even during the storm, and in the unborn child inside Esch that she tries to imagine into a world that is loving, and to shun the brutal world she knows can be anything but. Even the end feels to me like a rewriting of The Great Gatsby as Nick stares into the future, at the green light, filled with sadness and hope. I won't ruin it beyond saying, that there is a hint of something positive in the destruction, of rebirth.
This book is difficult, but so worthwhile. The world Ward portrays is fully realized and the characters are alive in the pages, so much so that they feel alive even now that I'm done.
Please read the book, and visit the other stops on the tour.
Monday, September 5th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, September 6th: So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Wednesday, September 7th: Raging Bibliomania
Monday, September 12th: Wandering Thoughts of a Scientific Housewife
Wednesday, September 14th: Caribousmom
Monday, September 19th: Book Addiction
Thursday, September 22nd: Linus’s Blanket Out of Twenty Q&A
Monday, September 26th: Well Read Wife
Tuesday, September 27th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, September 28th: Mocha Momma
Thursday, September 29th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thanks to the publisher, I also have a copy of this book to give away. To enter, simply fill out the form below: