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Salvage the Bones: A Novel

Jesmyn Ward, Bloomsbury

By John J. Kelly · December 21st, 2011 · Lit
With her tough, tense and taut tale of one rural family’s bitter and bloody fight for survival in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, 2011 National Book Award-winner Jesmyn Ward has secured herself a place among such other great Southern writers as Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee and William Faulkner. Ward’s electrifying, exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat second novel, Salvage The Bones, takes us into the naked heart of one Southern family struggling for both survival and identity.

With prose both powerful and poetic, Ward has imagined an unforgettable family, including the novel’s narrator, a young woman named Esch, who serves as both the voice and conscience of a close clan of motherless siblings, haunted by a father drenched in alcohol.

All of the siblings are distracted by other challenges, including a gruesome yet vividly described organized dog fight, a crucial basketball game and a tragic accident while Esch’s father attempts to prepare his family and his property for what he senses will be a devastating storm. 

Meanwhile, Esch is an adolescent girl virtually surrounded by men, keeping a secret of her own pregnancy. “If I could,” she states so agonizingly, “I would reach inside of me and pull out my heart and that tiny wet seed that will become a baby.”

Ward’s brilliance is her ability to illuminate both the isolation and darkness that permeates the 12 days leading up to when Katrina makes landfall. Esch’s loneliness and isolation are palpable as she battles to assist all the diverse members of her family while Katrina is headed right for them. The novel’s ultimate victory is the depiction of a poor Southern family in crisis, depending on one another as well as their own individual sense of dignity, as they stumble through adversity towards redemption. And in this redemption, we, as readers, are able to experience our own humanity. Grade: A



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