”I will tie the glass and stone with string, hang the shards above my bed, so that they will flash in the dark and tell the story of Katrina, the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered. Her chariot was a storm so great and black the Greeks would say it was harnessed to dragons. She was the murderous mother who cut us to the bone but left us alive, left us naked and bewildered as wrinkled newborn babies, as blind puppies, as sun-starved newly hatched baby snakes. She left us a dark Gulf and salt-burned land. She left us to learn to crawl. She left us to salvage. Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large, merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.”
I remember Hurricane Katrina. Having lived in the south all my life, I’ve borne witness to many a tornado, tropical storm, and hurricane. Nothing quite compares to Katrina—its depth, its width. I live in northern Alabama and my people were still hit hard by her. My family spent a few days and nights in the basement of our church, with friends, sleeping on cots and passing the time playing ping-pong. For me, being a child of nine at the time, it was an experience of pure, unadulterated fear mixed with excitement stemming from the strangeness of staying away from home for that length of time. We survived the storm with our homes and lives intact, though our neighbors in Mississippi and Louisiana and Texas were not so lucky.
If Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is a tropical storm, Salvage the Bones is a category five hurricane. It is a force to be reckoned with; it is awesome in the purest sense of the word. Though it is a deeply southern work, Ward’s honed storytelling abilities allow this brutal, gritty examination of a family in Mississippi preparing for the storm of their lives to maintain a sense of accessibility, and home-spun charm.
A deeply poetic, painful, and crystal-clear story of motherhood and loss set in the sweltering heat of an oncoming southern storm, I could not put this book down and feel I’ll have reader’s hangover for some time to come. Is it too early to have a book of the year?