Book 20: Salvage the Bones–Jesmyn Ward

This book hurt my feelings. I finished reading it and was pouting. And sad. And I wanted to reach over and hold my dog and cry until he squirmed out of my arms and looked at me like I was out of my mind before he promptly got up and resettled himself on another part of the couch, far away from me.

It was a bit of a slow start for me, and I won’t say it really ever became a page turner for me, but it wasn’t about halfway through until I really got invested in the characters enough to read for any long period of time.

You can read the synopsis to know it’s about a family in the days leading up to, and after Hurricane Katrina, so you know there’s some devastation coming. But the way it unfolded still stung more than I expected it to.

As someone who wasn’t directly impacted by Katrina–it was supposed to hit us in N. Florida but turned in the last couple of days–most of my initial information about the storm came from the news, like everyone else. I knew enough about storms and racism and news coverage to know that how the folks who “chose” to stay were portrayed and talked about was utter garbage. I knew that not everyone has the ability to just get up and leave, and having a father who grew up in South Florida, I also knew that the mentality of riding out a storm was completely normal and overwhelmingly common. What none of us knew, was that this storm would mark a new era of superstorms that came not once every 500 years or even every 50 years, but pretty much every year onward, thanks to climate change.

What was remarkable about this book was that it wasn’t about Katrina. It was about a family. And that family’s day-to-day life–their relationships with each other, with other people, their hobbies, their passions, their conflicts, etc. What was so poignant about the book is the way that Ward explains, without explaining, how and why folks may not have been all up in arms about the storm, why people may not have evacuated, reasons that have nothing to do with being stubborn or ignorant or brave, as well as how and why folks did what they did after the storm, reasons that have nothing to do with being criminal or ghetto.

Moreover, the structure of the book really emphasized how quickly a person’s entire existence can shift. Each chapter was one day in this family’s life, and in the 9 days leading up to the storm, their lives were consumed with other events, milestones, personal discoveries, feuds, etc. In a matter of hours, all of those life-consuming issues were rendered completely unimportant. In a matter of hours, issues each character had spent days or weeks stressing, lamenting, worrying about no longer seemed worthy of losing sleep over as the real losses and potential for loss presented themselves.

This story challenges you…it doesn’t have any semblance of a neat ending or even closure. It ends with an ellipsis, leaving you unsettled and raw. Much like life generally does.

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