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Salvage the Bones: A Novel Paperback – April 24, 2012
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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.
"A fresh new voice in American literature, Ward unflinchingly describes a world full of despair but not devoid of hope." - PW Starred review for Where the Line Bleeds
"Her prodigious talent and fearless portrayal of a world too often overlooked make her novel a powerful choice." - Essence for Where the Line Bleeds
"A richly textured tale...like the best fiction, it creates its own world." - Susan Larson, N.O. Times-Picayune for Where the Line Bleeds
"A remarkable first novel...a lyrical, clear-eyed portrait of a rural South and an African-American reality that are rarely depicted." - Boston Globe for Where the Line Bleeds
About the Author
Jesmyn Ward received her M.F.A. from the University of Michigan and is currently an associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University. She is the editor of the anthology The Fire This Time and the author of the memoir Men We Reaped and the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Sing, Unburied, Sing, a finalist for the National Book Award. A 2017 MacArthur Fellow in Fiction, Ward lives in DeLisle, Mississippi.
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Ward's book opens with birth: Skeetah's pit bull China is giving birth to puppies and the reader learns more about the mechanics of that than one might have hoped, but we also learn that China is the love of Skeetah's life. His capacity of care for her is big enough to encompass almost the entire bayou in which they live and ultimately weather hurricane Katrina that is approaching relentlessly throughout the book, villain and goddess of the book. The love Skeetah has for China, that older brother Randall has for youngest brother Junior, that they all have for each other and their Dad's love, flawed as it is, is the sinew that ties the book together and is Ward's contribution. As much as relations and inequalities between men and women and toxic masculinity provide a drum beat throughout the book, it is actually the human capacity for love, the undertold story of infinite male tenderness and even less told story of female ferocity that are its heart. While damaged emotionally and eventually also physically, the children's father spends the entire book preparing for the storm. Amidst his own traumas and anxieties, he gathers resources, boards windows, stores water, worrying as the storm approaches, while no one else heeds his alarm. In a book in which the Greek myths are an undercurrent, he is the chorus, announcing and heeding the omens of doom. Even Big Henry, a physically massive and emotionally stable tree trunk of a presence, reminds Esch over and over until she hears it that he will protect her and care for her, without permitting the selfish distraction of his own desire to drown her, like the boy she sees as a son god, Manny does.
But it is the mother force of China, the echoes and remnants of love of the children's own mother lost in childbirth, Katrina and Esch, ultimately, herself, that is the main drive in the book. Like Medea, this force is as capable of wanton destruction (Katrina, obviously but also China's unthinking violence toward her own puppies) as it is of the kind of tenderness that keeps her children's faces unlined, unworried, bathed in love (later, motherless Randall's face is described as a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces don't quite fit), mothers marshal and command the power of the universe. It is not a power to be taken for granted or contained. It spills over, knocking down everything in its path. It is limitless, like when Big Henry's mother has room enough in her own damaged home to take in Esch's family, soothing and nursing them all to comfort. It is this force that Esch, in her coming of age and coming to accept her own impending motherhood, understands she must now marshal.
The story is told from 15 year old Esch Bastille's perspective shortly after she has finds out she is pregnant. Motherless herself since her youngest brother Junior was born, Esch is trying to hang on to the impoverished but emotionally rich life of her family in 'the pit', their home is Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Her oldest brother Randall has the potential to be recruited for a college basketball scholarship but lately his knee has been swelling a lot whenever he works out. Skeetah, her other brother, loves his pit bull China with a fierce and total passion. China has just given birth to puppies and her maternal instinct is in question. She is a fighting dog and the scenes of dog fights are visceral but essential to the core of the novel.
What transfixed me was the mythological backdrop to the narrative. Esch, a good student, has a book on Greek mythology that she is reading for school over the summer. Her character is super-imposed on the Jason and Medea story and Esch notices that "in every one of the Greeks' mythology tales, there is this: a man chasing a woman, or a woman chasing a man. There is never a meeting in the middle. There is only a body in a ditch, and one person walking toward or away from it." As Esch deals with her feelings for Manny, the baby's father, she reflects on the Greek myth.
While this novel's narrative focuses on a poor black family trying to survive a brutal and unforgiving act of nature in the face of very adverse conditions, it is really timeless. It is about connection, love, family and loss. It is about those things that are bigger than what we perceive on the surface, the geological core of our being. As Esch says, "I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons."
I will not forget this book. It has worked its way into my heart and being It is one of my all-time favorite books.
Gonna read all of her books now.