Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward, winner of the 2011 National Book Award, is an incredibly well-written and developed story of a family of five in the fictional Bois Sauvage, Louisiana in August 2006, just days before Hurricane Katrina makes landfall. Motherless since the youngest’s day of birth, the very poor Batiste family gets by on the middle son’s pit bull fighting winnings and thievery, and handouts from others. Despite their misfortunes, they are a loving family…which is odd to say about a family that doesn’t hug, compliment, or boast about the way that my own family does. Despite the fights, it is very obvious that this family would kill for one another.They are endearing in a very unique way.
Ward did not write a book, she composed a novel. The writing is so beautiful and lyrical. Perhaps that is why the family does not come across as uneducated trash, as they likely do to the rich people that live on the water. She gave Esch the voice of a young Southern black girl, but the personality of a loving, observant young woman. At times I wanted to reach through the stereo and shake her and yell, “No! No! it’s a lie!” but she eventually learned on her own, and in that instance learned more than a good shaking could have taught her.
I am so glad I listened to this book on audio. The performer, Cherise Boothe, has a stunning voice that lent authenticity and warmth to a difficult story. But I am sad that driving kept me from writing down the dozens of passages I desperately wish I could recall. Luckily I did jot down a couple lines at stop lights and they are as follows:
“This is a hurricane eclipse, the wood over the windows, the inside of the house so dark that the white of Junior’s shirt is the brightest thing.” (I remember boarded-up windows from my own experience living in hurricane-prone areas. That is probably why this line resonated with me.)
“She is calm and self-possessed as a house cat; it is the way that all girls who only know one boy move. Centered as if the love that boy feels for them anchors them deep as a tree’s roots, holds them still as the oaks, which don’t uproot in hurricane wind. Love as certainty.”
I cannot wait to recommend this story to my fiance’s aunts. Their reading interests are across the board, so this should fit nicely on their To Be Read pile.