Saturday, July 6, 2013

Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward

I found this book, at times, difficult to read. But ultimately highly rewarding.

The story features fifteen-year-old Esch, living with her family in New Orleans, who discovers that she is pregnant. Her father, who drinks too much, doesn't have a lot to offer the family, other than the land held by his family over generations. Her older brother Randall is hoping for a career in basketball, hoping that he will be chosen to go to basketball camp this summer. He is a solid family member, helping with the younger members as needed. Junior is the youngest and mostly hangs around hitching rides on others' backs or riding a bicycle without a seat. The other primary character is Skeeter, a year younger than Esch, who has a dog, China.

Skeet enters China in dog fights. This is where the novel became difficult for me. I worried about the dog, who is pregnant at the beginning of the book, and I worried about the place dog fighting has in the story. I found a different kind of view of these dogs than the one we often hear about, the Michael Vick type story. We find that Skeet loves China, perhaps more than any other creature. This love is not inconsistent with the fighting that she does: pitbulls are known for their desire to please, which may be even stronger than that of other dogs. This is the real reason they make good fighters.

Of course I found it difficult, still, to think of these dogs facing horrible injuries and of the owners having few resources for helping them with their wounds. Skeet does an admirable job in this regard. But I could imagine there would be many instances when his skills would not be up to the task.

We follow this family through the days leading up to the day Hurricane Katrina hits. By the time it does its worst we know them. We understand why they did not leave their home. We understand why it would be so difficult to understand what a category 5 hurricane, particularly this one, would be so different from the hurricanes they have experienced in the past.

I found the book enlightening both in the way that it describes how a very poor southern family sees the world and in the details of living through Katrina. In all the coverage I read and saw of that hurricane I never before heard it described as it is here.

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