"Salvage the Bones" is easily one of the worst novels I've ever finished--and I finished to see if the end would redeem the book overall, but that wasn't the case. The novel is not badly done on one or two levels; it's badly done on just about all of them. Some reviewers have said "well-written, bad book"; I don't see it that way. "Bones" is actually a very good example of pretentious writing, which is to say attempting to be profound and failing, or attempting to be lyrical and simply overwriting. Because opinions diverge on good/bad writing, I'll offer a few examples.
"Manny threw a basketball from hand to hand. Seeing him broke the cocoon of my rib cage, and my heart unfurled to fly." (p.5) This is just plain old purple.
Here Ward is trying to be down-home and folksy: "Manny's face was smooth, and only his body spoke: his muscles jabbered like chickens." Try visualizing that. I just can't.
And then there's plain old bad: "I turned the knob and the water that burst out of the spigot was as hot as boiling water." Describing the temperature of water as being as hot as boiling water? Wouldn't a single word--"scalding" or even "boiling"--have done the job?
"[The dog's] breasts are all swollen, and the puppies pull at them. She is a weary goddess." Yes, the doggie is a goddess because she had a litter of puppies. [Note: all females in this book are goddesses, or are smarter, stronger or more special than any of the males in the book.]
Here's a particularly bad extended metaphor: "Sometimes I wonder if Junior remembers anything, or if his head is like a colander, and the memories of who bottle-fed him, who licked his tears, who mothered him, squeezed through the metal like water to run down the drain, and only leave the present day ..." Starting off with the cliché "head like a sieve" (colander isn't fooling anyone)" this just goes on to get worse.
"...we hadn't had a good rain in weeks. The shower we needed was out there in the Gulf, held like a tired, hungry child by the storm forming there."
The last sentence illustrates another problem; sometimes the narrator likes to speak as though she is just a po' gal wit' no vocabulary (although we know she likes to read ... Faulkner no less--the author herself, I'm sure--and she's smarter than everyone else, of course), and sometimes, as she does here, the author goes for the slant rhyme--"storm forming"--but it doesn't sound natural in the sentence, it pings wrong off the ear. The author couldn't stick with the down-home sound because then she'd have to give up all those writerly sentences and phrases staining the prose purple.
Here the narrator sounds almost British (add an English accent as you read): "Only one puppy is dead even though it is China's first time birthing. China scratches at the earth floor of the shed as if she would dig a hole and bury the puppies from sight." Well, British except for the weird use of "bury *from*", which I've never heard/seen before.
Bad writing, weak characters, overblown females, stilted dialogue aside (clearly, I don't have time for examples of all of this), what is most repulsive about this book is that Ward thinks dog-fighting is somehow honorable, sublime, and the ultimate proof of love. Skeetah (more down-home and folksy than Skeeter), puts his dog (China) in the arena for money or "honor" (Ward babbles on about this at the back of the book though it's funny how a dog's pain and suffering somehow redeem the honor of a human standing safely on the side).
Her descriptions of the fights are badly done and unrealistic, yet Ward is clearly in love with them--a "red shawl" to describe a dog covered with blood. Alas, a dog's fur soaked with blood looks nothing like a fashion statement. The color is not uniform, the fur is unevenly matted or even clumped in places, so the texture is not uniform either (as we imagine the shawl to be). It's a creative writing-class way of sanitizing a dog fight. Ward also makes numerous comparisons to "kissing" during these fight scenes, as if she is trying to show the "violent love" in dog fighting, but there isn't any; it's just violent. And her book is a misguided attempt to elevate this practice rather than show it for what it is. At the character level, Skeetah is taking what he loves most, China, and forcing her, out of loyalty and trust, to fight dogs she's never met. This is the great love story at the anemic heart of this novel. And somehow, this pathology received a national book award. Politics anyone?