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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

January 19, 2019

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Reading Ward’s phenomenally lyrical Sing, Unburied, Sing in 2018, I wanted to quickly follow up with her 2011 National Book Award-winner, Salvage the Bones. Here, we find ourselves in a familiar setting—poor, contemporary south. 15-year-old Esch lives in a rural Mississippi bayou town with her brothers and alcoholic father. She is pregnant, and the boy who made her so wants nothing to do with her.

The story covers the days leading up to and after Hurricane Katrina (of which Ward is a survivor). Esch tries her best to make her way and hide her secret, leaning on her knowledge of Greek mythology to find comfort and answers, imagining herself to be various ancient mythological characters. But nothing can brace her or the family for the coming storm.

This is a tight, well-written story. It feels a little less refined than Sing, Unburied, Sing, but immersive and disturbing nonetheless. Esch is a sympathetic character, and the realities of her world are daunting and raw.

Ward is the only woman to win two National Book Awards for Fiction. I look forward to reading more of her work.

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