Jesymn Ward’s novel Salvage The Bones is built like a hurricane itself. The outer bands are stormy and sparse, like her prose. The center of the storm is complex, unyielding, and brutal like the lives of Esch and her family. And there are lyrical moments of beauty in the turn of a phrase or a glimpse of love, like the eye of the storm.
I chose to start this audiobook just after the 2017 devastation of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Watching the coverage and reading the news articles reminded me that I have a few books on my shelf about Hurricane Katrina. I’m glad I started with this one, since it was wonderful. The narration by Cherise Boothe is the perfect compliment to Ward’s writing.
Ward’s first-person story focuses on Esch, a teenage girl from a family with a dad and three brothers. Her mother has died, and she has no other strong female influence. Esch are her brother Randall do more parenting of the younger boys than their alcoholic dad does. So, part of the story is about siblings raising themselves.
Another part of the novel is about Esch’s brother Skeetah and his pit bull, China. China and her young puppies are an income source for the family, which only serves to increase the stress among the siblings. Esch also finds that she’s pregnant at fifteen (not a spoiler – it’s on the back cover). Ironically, China is a role model for her.
Just in case this rural Mississippi family didn’t have enough on their collective plate, Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on them. Ward divides the chapters by day, counting down to landfall as people in hurricane zones will do.
Jesmyn Ward captures the tension, heartbreak, and uncertainty of everyday life for Esch’s family and friends. She drew me right into their midst, with smells and sounds described in a unique and eloquent way. As each chapter passed, I wanted to spend more time with Esch. To nurture her, and be there to listen as her mother might have done. She and her family will be imprinted on my heart for this hurricane season and many more.