Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage The Bones is a violent, emotional journey. The Batiste family’s struggles, compounded with the weight of Hurricane Katrina are tragic beyond fiction. Fifteen-year-old Esch and her brothers, Randall, Skeetah, and Junior live in Bois Sauvage, a rural town in southern Mississippi with their alcoholic father. Their mother, who died giving birth to Junior, is incredibly present despite her absence. Esch is alone in a world of men, but her strength as a woman is steadfast.
The women of this novel, Esch, Medea (Esch’s constant literary companion), China (Skeetah’s white fighting Pitbull), and even Katrina are relentless. Their physical strength and the power of their bodies give life and have the power to destroy. After the hurricane ravages the town, narrator Esch describes her as “the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.” The reckless force of the mother is unhinged, creating chaos instead of life.
As dark as the scene is painted, there is incredible hope in these characters. They are intentional, loyal, strong. Real. They are a reminder of the fragile strength that imbues the living. That once broken, we can salvage the pieces and live.
Ward’s prose is lyrical, detailed. She reminds me so much and yet so little of Faulkner (the voice is irrevocably female), invoking a world that seems so real and far away. Political, powerful, and poignant, Salvage The Bones is simply a classic.