2011 National Book Award Winner: Fiction
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else.Read more...
2011 National Book Award Winner: Fiction
A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting.
As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family -- motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce -- pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-05-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Ward's poetic second novel (after Where the Line Bleeds) covers the 12 days leading up to Hurricane Katrina via the rich, mournful voice of Esch Batiste, a pregnant 14-year-old black girl living with her three brothers and father in dire poverty on the edge of Bois Sauvage, Miss. Stricken with morning sickness and dogged by hunger, Esch helps her drunken father prepare their home for the gathering storm. She also looks after seven-year-old Junior while her oldest brother, Randall, trains to win a scholarship to basketball camp, and middle son Skeet devotes himself to delivering and raising his fighting bitch China's pit bull puppies. All the while, Esch ponders whether she will have the baby and yearns for its father to love her "once he learns secret." Esch traces in the minutiae of every moment of every scene of her life the thin lines between passion and violence, love and hate, life and death, and though her voice threatens to overpower the story, it does a far greater service to the book by giving its cast of small lives a huge resonance. (Sept.)
The eyes of the storm
The Gulf of Mexico is about to birth a storm, and it’s headed straight for Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. But Hurricane Katrina’s approach isn’t the first thing on teenage Esch Batiste’s mind; she’s more concerned about her newly discovered pregnancy and the baby’s father, Manny, who is dating another girl. Her brother Skeetah, on the other hand, is fixated on his pit bull China’s newborn puppies. If they live, the dogs may provide money for the Batiste children, who are living in poverty and fending for themselves as their father drinks to dull the pain of their mother’s death.
There’s an unmistakable contrast between Skeetah’s love for China and the indifference of Manny toward Esch. Manny dotes on his girlfriend but approaches Esch for sex; he pushes her away when she seeks emotional connection. Esch repeatedly draws parallels between her situation and her assigned school reading about the mythological Medea, whose husband Jason betrays her. Manny refuses her, but Esch finds support from her brothers, her father and their friends. “This baby got plenty daddies,” one boy says.
It would be easy for the events of Salvage the Bones to take on a pitying, cloying quality. But Mississippi native Jesmyn Ward’s second novel is a pitch-perfect account of struggle and community in the rural South. No doubt Ward’s own upbringing, in DeLisle, Mississippi, factored into the landscape she paints. The fictional Bois Sauvage is based on Ward’s hometown, where the population is mostly poor, black and uneducated. Ward herself broke out of that cycle with help from her mother’s employer, who paid for her private-school education.
The fictional world Ward creates sings with the speech of uneducated but wise people without stepping into caricature dialect. 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.