Salvage the Bones: A Novel Paperback – Apr 24 2012
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“The first great novel about Katrina.” ―Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe
“[A] searing, understated, and big-hearted novel.” ―Salon
“Salvage the Bones is an intense book, with powerful, direct prose that dips into poetic metaphor . . . We are immersed in Esch's world, a world in which birth and death nestle close, where there is little safety except that which the siblings create for each other. That close-knit familial relationship is vivid and compelling, drawn with complexities and detail.” ―Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
“I've just read [Salvage the Bones] and it'll be a long time before its magic wears off...Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretention, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy . . . A palpable sense of desire and sorrow animates every page here . . . Salvage the Bones has the aura of a classic about it.” ―Ron Charles, Washington Post
“A timeless tale of a family that regains its humanity in the face of incalculable loss.” ―Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Jesmyn Ward has claimed her place both as a contemporary witness of life in the rural south and as a descendant of its great originals.” ―Nicholas Delbanco, author of Sherbrookes and Lastingness: The Art of Old Age
“The narrator's voice sparks with beauty as it urges the reader through this moving story set in the shadow of Katrina. ” ―Zoë Triska, Huffington Post
“Jesmyn Ward has written . . . the first Katrina-drenched fiction I'd press upon readers now.” ―Karen R. Long, Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Ward's redolent prose conjures the magic and menace of the southern landscape. ” ―Elizabeth Hoover, Dallas Morning News
“The novel's power comes from the dread of the approaching storm and a pair of violent climaxes. The first is a dog fight, an appalling spectacle given emotional depth by Skeetah's love for the pit bull China (their bond is the strongest and most affecting in the book). When the hurricane strikes, Ms. Ward endows it, too, with attributes maternal and savage: ‘Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.'” ―Wall Street Journal
“From its lyrical yet visceral first scene, this novel had me, and I hardly dared to put it down for fear a spell might be broken. But it never was or will be; such are the gifts of this writer.” ―Laura Kasischke, author of In a Perfect World
“Without a false note . . . A superbly realized work of fiction that, while Southern to the bone, transcends its region to become universal.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“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, [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.” ―CityBeat (Cincinnati)
“Ward uses fearless, toughly lyrical language to convey this family's close-knit tenderness [and] the sheer bloody-minded difficulty of rural African American life . . . It's an eye-opening heartbreaker that ends in hope . . . You owe it to yourself to read this book.” ―Library Journal (starred review)
“Few works of fiction can capture the heart-wrenching emotions attached to a natural disaster, and fewer still can do it in a way that seems palpable and fresh. Salvage the Bones, the latest by rising star Jesmyn Ward, accomplishes this feat, and then some . . . From beginning to end, Jesmyn flirts with perfection in this stunning second novel, and the reader is rewarded for it. ” ―Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)
“A pitch-perfect account of struggle and community in the rural South . . . Though the characters in Salvage the Bones face down Hurricane Katrina, the story isn't really about the storm. It's about people facing challenges, and how they band together to overcome adversity. ” ―BookPage
“[Salvage the Bones] is uncompromising and frank, showing both beauty and violence, poverty and resilience, in a powerful and poetic voice.” ―Sun Herald (Biloxi, MS)
About the Author
Jesmyn Ward grew up in DeLisle, Mississippi. She received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won five Hopwood awards for essays, drama, and fiction. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford, from 2008-2010, she has been named the 2010-11 Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds, was an Essence Magazine Book Club selection, a Black Caucus of the ALA Honor Award recipient, and a finalist for both the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.
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Top Customer Reviews
The voice of the protagonist is muddled. She is supposed to be a teenager but often it seems as if she is much younger. But then she'll think something so achingly beautiful that her mental age seems to skyrocket. It's unsettling since the voice isn't consistent.
This novel is fairly depressing. Essentially, twelve days and nothing good happens to anyone. Maybe there's a tiny glimmer of hope at the end but it is a bit of a struggle to read a piece where nothing good ever seems to happen to any of the characters.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Salvage the Bones is unlike any novel I've read before. It is so honest, so raw, and at times so painful that I wanted to close the book and run away, but ultimately I was deeply moved by this story. Esch and her family crawled into my heart and their struggles were so palpable that I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and lift them out.
This book is not an easy read. It broke my heart a million times over. China, Skeetah's pit bull, is a fighting dog and as a person who loves pit bulls and has some very close family and friends who have pits as pets, the whole dogfighting business makes me extremely angry. So it was not the best for me to be reading about people fighting these precious, intelligent, loving, sweet animals. This was probably the most difficult aspect of the book for me, although the family does experience the actual hurricane and that portion of the book was hard to read too. Just know that while this story is not an easy one to read, it is certainly rewarding in the end.
Salvage the Bones elicited so many emotions in me as I was reading it. I was so frustrated by Esch's father's inability (or unwillingness) to take care of his family properly. Esch essentially raised her youngest brother, Junior, on her own after their mother died during his childbirth. I was so angry at the boy who got Esch pregnant as he didn't care for her at all and was, in the most clear and simple case of this I've seen in fiction, just using her for sex. I was heartbroken and mad about the fighting dogs. But mostly, the book made me feel an overwhelming sadness, the overwhelming feeling that this family just could not get it together, that things would never turn around for them. Their situation was just so upsetting, so heartbreaking, that I couldn't help but feel despair while reading about it. In fact, toward the middle of the novel there is a dogfighting scene, at which point I burst into tears and didn't stop crying until the end of the book. It affected me that much.
Salvage the Bones is an excellent, haunting novel that brought me to tears. Not much about this book is hopeful or happy, but there is a glimmer of something there at the end that makes it all worth the journey through this family's pain. This novel absolutely broke my heart, but at the same time I can't help but recommend that you read it too.
Each character is as alive as any ever put to a page, from the dog, China, and her dog fights, to the father, and his inability to cope as a widowed father of four. It's not a pretty story filled with flowers and perfumes, but a story of poverty and strength, hope and love, climaxing as the winds and waters of Katrina send the family into the swirling waters and howling winds to find their own salvation from the storm.
Just like it seemed to all of those who survived the Storm, the days leading up to it were bigger than life, filled with the little things that made life normal as well as preparation for the storm's arrival. Just like reality, no one expected Katrina to deliver the blow it did. From Esch's pregnancy, their father's accident, the dog China and her pups, and the tragedy of youth, each character colors the tale and brings it to life.
No one knew when the storm came that it was going to have the raw power it possessed. Caught in the attic, the storm surge rising, the reality of potentially drowning in their own attic grasps their attention, and in a desperate bid to find safety, a hole is smashed through the roof, and their escape is plotted. It's not without risk, and it comes with loss, but the family all make it to their temporary haven.
It's a powerful story,but its not a pretty story. It ends in the chaos and confusion of the first post-storm days after Katrina, with food and water in desperate shortage and yet it finds the grace and beauty that the best of humanity possesses. It has a real-ness about it that is rare, and the book is one of the best reads I've had in a long time.
I highly recommend it.
China is the snow-white pit bull whom Esch's brother Skeetah treats as lovingly as his own child (even as he trains her to be a fierce fighting dog). China herself has just had puppies, and the novel explicitly links the fates of Esch and China, which I suppose says a lot about what it feels like to be a poor black girl in the South. This book reminded me of both "The Color Purple" (published in 1982) and "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (published in 1937, and definitely my favorite of the three), and I found it kind of sad that Esch's life shared so many similarities with those of Celie and Janie. She struggles with both the same kind of relentless poverty and the same abuses on account of her gender.
One false note I felt the author struck was in endlessly alluding back to the myth of Medea and Jason, which has the effect of jarring the reader out of the story. As a teenage girl you are experiencing everything for the first time, things that (in your mind) no one has ever experienced before, and trying to tie Esch back into ancient Greek myth feels somehow false. This story and its characters are rich enough on their own.
"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?