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Salvage the Bones

A Novel

Jesmyn Ward

Bloomsbury USA

Salvage the Bones Download image

ISBN10: 1608196267
ISBN13: 9781608196265


288 Pages



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Winner of the National Book Award
A New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award Finalist
A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book of the Year

A hurricane is building over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the coastal town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, and Esch's father is growing concerned. A hard drinker, largely absent, he doesn't show concern for much else. Esch and her three brothers are stocking food, but there isn't much to save. Lately, Esch can't keep down what food she gets; she's fourteen and pregnant. Her brother Skeetah is sneaking scraps for his prized pitbull's new litter, dying one by one in the dirt. Meanwhile, brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim in a family long on child's play and short on parenting.

As the twelve days that make up the novel's framework yield to their dramatic conclusion, this unforgettable family—motherless children sacrificing for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce—pulls itself up to face another day. A big-hearted novel about familial love and community against all odds, and a wrenching look at the lonesome, brutal, and restrictive realities of rural poverty, Salvage the Bones is muscled with poetry, revelatory, and real.


Praise for Salvage the Bones

"I've just read [Salvage the Bones], and it'll be a long time before its magic wears off . . . Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy . . . A palpable sense of desire and sorrow animates every page here . . . Salvage the Bones has the aura of a classic about it."—Ron Charles, Washington Post

"Salvage the Bones is the implacable lens that captures in grainy, dramatic close-ups a family's hopes tied up in the narrowest of futures . . . By the time the storm hits and the water rises, we're in a more universal place, where reality and myth meet, creating a timeless tale of a family that regains its humanity in the face of incalculable loss." —Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Salvage the Bones is an intense book, with powerful, direct prose that dips into poetic metaphor . . . we are immersed in Esch's world, a world in which birth and death nestle close, where there is little safety except that which the siblings create for each other. That close-knit familial relationship is vivid and compelling, drawn with complexities and detail."—Los Angeles Times

"The novel's power comes from the dread of the approaching storm and a pair of violent climaxes. The first is a dog fight, an appalling spectacle given emotional depth by Skeetah's love for the pit bull China (their bond is the strongest and most atfecting in the book). When the hurricane strikes, Ms. Ward endows it, too, with attributes maternal and savage: 'Katrina is the mother we will remember until the next mother with large merciless hands, committed to blood, comes.'"—Wall Street Journal

"Jesmyn Ward has written . . . the first Katrina-drenched fiction I'd press upon readers now . . . Ward's pacing around the hurricane is exquisite—we nearly forget its impending savagery. The Batistes' shared sacrifice is moving, made more so by their occasional shirking of sacrifice. Ward allows the letdowns integral to family life to play their part."—Cleveland Plain Dealer

"With her tough, tense and taut tale of one rural family's bitter and bloody fight for survival in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, [Ward] has secured herself a place among such other great Southern writers as Flannery O'Connor, Harper Lee and William Faulkner. Ward's electrifying, exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat second novel, Salvage the Bones, takes us into the naked heart of one Southern family struggling for both survival and identity. With prose both powerful and poetic, Ward has imagined an unforgettable family."—CityBeat (Cincinnati)

"Few works of fiction can capture the heart-wrenching emotions attached to a natural disaster, and fewer still can do it in a way that seems palpable and fresh. Salvage the Bones, the latest by rising star Jesmyn Ward, accomplishes this feat, and then some . . . From beginning to end, Jesmyn flirts with perfection in this stunning second novel, and the reader is rewarded for it."—Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia)

"Hurricane Katrina lands full force in Jesmyn Ward's probing novel . . . From such disasters, myths emerge."—CounterPunch

"A pitch-perfect account of struggle and community in the rural South . . . Though the characters in Salvage the Bones face down Hurricane Katrina, the story isn't really about the storm. It's about people facing challenges, and how they band together to overcome adversity."BookPage

"Searing . . . Despite the brutal world it depicts, Salvage the Bones is a beautiful read. Ward's redolent prose conjures the magic and menace of the southern landscape."Dallas Morning News

"This book is impossibly beautiful."—Carol Ann Fitzgerald,

"Salvage the Bones is an engaging novel that, on the surface, seems like a sorrowful tale of a broken household, yet holds beneath it the cherished story of family and loyalty."—

"Salvage the Bones is a novel that will make readers wince at times and tear up at others. Ward gives voice to the forgotten families of the Gulf Coast through lyrical imagery and the type of uncensored authenticity that can only be delivered through the eyes of a child . . . it is a true testament to the realities of rural poverty. Once the storm hits, you'll find yourself tearing through the book and finishing it with a better sense of Katrina's impact."—Bust

"A fiery, almost fable-like novel."Whole Living

"Uncompromising and frank, showing both beauty and violence, poverty and resilience, in a powerful and poetic voice."Sun Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi)

"The novel's hugeness of heart and fierceness of family grip and hold on like [a] pit bull."—O: The Oprah Magazine

"A heartwrenching . . . story that reminds us of the devastating condition of some parts of America even before Hurricane Katrina came through, but never asks us to abandon hope."—Ron Hogan,

"This second novel delivers on and expands the promise of Where the Line Bleeds; Jesmyn Ward has claimed her place both as a contemporary witness of life in the rural south and as a descendant of its great originals. This memorable clan deals with the threat and then the actuality of Hurricane Katrina in much the way that Faulkner's folk once dealt with fire and flood; the voice here is lyric, unsparing, and fierce. You won't forget this book."—Nicholas Delbanco, author of Sherbrookes & Lastingness: The Art of Old Age

"With Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward has written the best sort of novel—a beautiful, important book that's both unflinching and tender, heartbreaking and triumphant. A lyrical and riveting testament to the strength of the human spirit, as well as the power of family and community. Ward's paragraphs are like songs, lifting us even as the authenticity of this world and these characters keeps the ground in clear sight. This is an extraordinary book by an extraordinary writer."—Skip Horack, author of The Southern Cross and The Eden Hunter

"Jesmyn Ward writes like an angel with a knife to your throat, compelling you with exquisite language and a clear voice to go where she goes, to see what she sees. Salvage the Bones is at turns unsettling and upliftingraw and honest as a dog fight, lyrical as a poem. It cuts through the clichés about poverty to arrive at a place of shocking recognition, that at the end of the day love and loyalty to family are all that sustain us."—Ken Wells, author of Meely LaBauve

"From its lyrical yet visceral first scene, this novel had me, and I hardly dared to put it down for fear a spell might be broken. But it never was or will be; such are the gifts of this writer."—Laura Kasischke, author of In a Perfect World

"Deeply felt and bristling with breathtaking imagery, Salvage the Bones will hold its readers utterly riveted to the very last page."—Travis Holland, author of The Archivist's Story

"Without a false note . . . A superbly realized work of fiction that, while Southern to the bone, transcends its region to become universal."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"With spare and eloquent language, Ward creates remarkably memorable characters . . . readers will discover a world seldom depicted in the coverage of Katrina."—School Library Journal

"Ward uses fearless, toughly lyrical language to convey this family's close-knit tenderness, the sheer bloody-minded difficulty of rural African American life, and what it's like when those hurricane winds sledge-hammer you and the water rises faster than you can stand up. It's an eye-opening heartbreaker that ends in hope. Highly recommended; you owe it to yourself to read this book."—Library Journal (starred review)

"[A] poetic second novel . . . [main character] Esch traces in the minutiae of every moment of every scene of her life the thin lines between passion and violence, love and hate, life and death . . . her voice . . . [gives] its cast of small lives a huge resonance."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Jesmyn Ward

Jesmyn Ward received her MFA from the University of Michigan and is currently a professor of creative writing at Tulane University. She is the author of the novels Where the Line Bleeds and Salvage the Bones, which won the 2011 National Book Award, and Sing, Unburied, Sing, which won the 2017 National Book Award. She is also the editor of the anthology The Fire This Time and the author of the memoir Men We Reaped, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. From 2008-2010, Ward had a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. She was the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi for the 2010-2011 academic year. In 2016, the American Academy of Arts and Letters selected Ward for the Strauss Living Award. She lives in Mississippi.