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Salvage the Bones: A Novel Paperback – April 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 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.