Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward is a brilliant read. I read it in a day and wanted more of it as I knew the novel was ending. Each character is alive as ever to be put on paper. The novel is not a happy book. The reader is not expected to end it with a warm, fuzzy feeling in his or her heart. The book is brutal at times and that is what makes it as charming as any other book.
Fourteen-year-old Esch, who has just found out that she’s pregnant, is trying to keep things from falling apart in her family, as they learn that their home town Bois Savage, Mississippi is going to be hit by the Hurricane Katrina. Her father is an alcoholic (as is the case in most of these books), who is concerned about the hurricane and wants to get his children to board up windows and ensure that there are enough canned goods in the house. Her brother Randall is trying to help and starts the process. Junior (the youngest brother) cannot do much, while Skeetah is too busy taking care of his pit bull fighter, China and get her back to health, after the birth of her puppies. That in brief is the story, with the hurricane – literally and metaphorically as the backdrop, for what the family goes through daily.
The book is not happy. It does not promise a happy ending. Besides the core plot of teenage pregnancy, there are other matters which make the novel what it is. The themes of alienation, the poverty of the family, the not being able to hold on to each other, and the sheer and raw nature of animal abuse through a dog fight are nerve shattering at times as you get deeper into the book.
Jesmyn Ward’s writing is raw and she does not sugar coat a single sentence or word. She portrays things and instances as she sees them, as maybe her characters do. One does get frustrated reading the book after a while, when nothing happy happens, but then as a reader, you understand the point slowly and steadily. The book is told in 12 chapters of 12 days leading to the hurricane.
Salvage the Bones also at a deeper level does portray the love of a family – sometimes unconditional and sometimes not so, no matter what conditions they are living in. Esch was somehow Jem (from To Kill a Mockingbird) to me as I was devouring the read. Her character is superbly etched besides the others. Jesmyn Ward has brilliantly captured the southern world as is in the heart of Mississippi – where living is not only difficult but also sometimes survival is the key.
I could not stop reading this book. I waited for it for a long time and I dug my teeth into this one without looking up from the book. Salvage the Bones was not a disappointment at all, far from it. At times, the book was a difficult read, but it was worth all the trouble I went through initially. It is lyrical. It reads like poetry and it knows what to do – touch the reader’s heartstrings for sure.