Ward, Jesmyn. “Salvage the Bones: A Novel”, Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition, 2012.
Esch and her three brothers are preparing for the oncoming hurricane by stocking food. Their costal town of Bois Sauvage is being threatened by the storm that is building in the Gulf of Mexico and Esch’s father is getting worried. He is a heavy drinker and absent a good deal from the home and cares for no one other than himself. Esch is fourteen years old and can’t keep food down which is probably a result of her pregnancy.
Her brother, Skeetah, is sneaking scraps for his prized pit bull’s new litter where the pups are dying one by one in the dirt. Brothers Randall and Junior try to stake their claim “in a family long on child’s play and short on parenting”.
The novel is set in just twelve days and we meet his family where there is no mother and the children sacrifice for one another as they can, protecting and nurturing where love is scarce.
Aside from the storm we are given a look at rural poverty and familial love. The characters are vibrantly alive— the dog, China, the father (who is unable to deal with being and a widowed father of four) and the others. This is a story of poverty and strength, hope and love, climaxing Hurricane Katrina sends the family into the waters and the wind to search for their own salvation from the storm.
The days leading up to it were epic and filled with the little things that made life normal as well as preparation for the storm’s arrival. Just like reality, no one expected Katrina to deliver what it did. No one knew when the storm came that it was going to have the raw power it possessed. Caught in the attic, with the storm surge rising, the reality of potentially drowning in their own attic gets the family’s attention, and in a desperate bid to find safety, a hole is smashed through the roof, and their escape is planned. It is a risky plan and it comes with loss, but the family all make it to their temporary haven.
This is a powerful story that ends in chaos after Katrina but there is grace and humanity here but it’s not a pretty story. The entire novel leads up to the explosion of Hurricane Katrina, but it focuses on two parallel story lines: Esch and China. Fourteen year-old Esch has been the woman of the house, caring for her alcoholic father and brood of brothers, since her mother’s death years before. She is also pregnant. Esch dreams of the baby’s father who is an older good-looking boy who is unattainable. Esch is sensitive but matter-of-fact and intelligent but foolish and impulsive like any teenager at that age. China is the snow-white pit bull whom Esch’s brother Skeetah treats as lovingly as his own child (even as he trains her to be a fierce fighting dog). China herself has just had puppies, and the novel explicitly links the fates of Esch and China.
The novel is honest and raw but as I read I found the characters became part of my life and that could be because I also went through Katrina. I found myself experiencing many different emotions ranging from joy to frustration.