I’m toying around with a New Orleans/hurricane themed course, whether in first-year writing or an upper-division humanities course. I’ve been trying to think about books that would be relevant, both fiction and nonfiction. Several people had already recommended Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones to me before, and with her new book garnering National Book Award buzz, I thought it might be time to give it a try.
Esch is our protagonist. She’s fifteen, motherless, and pregnant. She is jockeying for family position amongst wild and unruly brothers. Her father is careless and a hard drinker. But a new hurricane is on the horizon, and he’s worried. Her brother Skeetah’s pit bull China is having puppies, which are sickening by the day. And finally, she is concerned that the boy she loves doesn’t care about her enough to acknowledge that he has gotten her pregnant. All of this unfolds in the ever-looming path of Katrina. And once the storm hits, her family’s trajectory changes course entirely.
I’ve heard Ward compared to Faulkner, and I think the comparison is more than apt. In fact, I believe this is a retelling of As I Lay Dying, and I think that Ward’s reading is even better than Faulkner’s original text. There is a biting commentary on poverty in the face of natural disaster, just as there is on race. Ward is an amazing writer. She makes you care about things that you might find repulsive (dog fighting) and immerses you into the world and the characters who inhabit it. The book itself is a slow burn until the hurricane hits, and then I found myself madly turning pages to see what happened. I reeled after reading this, particularly because it was a wholly absorbing experience. Highly recommended. Now to put myself on the Sing, Unburied, Sing waitlist.
Cross-posted to my blog.