Monday, March 19, 2012


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Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward, Bloomsbury USA, 2011, 258 pp

Because Jesmyn Ward's Katrina novel won the National Book Award and is a contender in the Tournament of Books, it has been widely reviewed, mostly favorably. So I won't go into plot or spend any of our valuable time rehashing what others have already said.

My reading experience of Salvage the Bones was mixed. I certainly got involved with the story and the characters. She put me into their world and made me care what would happen to them as she also personalized the Katrina experience. But something kept jarring my attention.

For days after finishing I found myself thinking about the book and knew that I had been emotionally affected. It was during these moments of reliving the story that I figured out what had bothered me.

Ms Ward chose to have the fifteen-year-old Esch tell us what happened during the twelve days of Katrina. When Esch speaks to her brothers, father, and friends in the book's dialogue, she sounds like an impoverished Black teen from a small Mississippi town. But when she is narrating to the reader she sounds like a well-educated writer and professor of creative writing; she sounds like Jesmyn Ward instead of Esch.

To get technical, I wonder why our author wrote her novel in the first person narrative mode instead of the third person limited. In fact, she mixed the two, while staying in first person and thus diluted my reading pleasure.

Otherwise, I think Salvage the Bones is a prizeworthy and important novel for giving us one of the stories that should accompany all those images we saw on the news feeds in 2005.

(Salvage the Bones is available in hardcover, paperback and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. To find it at your nearest indie bookstore, click on the cover image above.)

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