Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward: ‘He Will Look at Me’

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


He will look at me. He will look at me. He will look at me. So intones Esch, the fifteen year old girl on the brink of a devastating womanhood, desperate to be seen, to be noticed, to be loved, as she and her family make their preparations for the oncoming onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.

Told over 12 days, twelve days, each of which keens with an urgency that Esch and her brothers have not yet caught up with, this book is a testament to Jessmyn Ward’s incredibly talent and lyricism in her portrayal of grinding poverty, every day racism, and families that have had the soul ripped out of them.

Esch is pregnant, that realisation coming to her at the start of the novel, and as her place in her motherless family is explored through her relationships with her brothers, the readers wills for them to notice that this girl-child is with child. The reader seeks to throw a protective arm around Esch, all the while knowing that until her family sees her – really sees her – there is little that can be done to salvage her from her own destiny. This in the context of the approaching storm laces the book with a building tension.

Often visceral and raw in its depiction of the brutality and bloodiness of the life that Esch leads in the Mississippi town of Bois Sauvage, the sense of time and place is rendered in unforgettable prose. Dragging winds, stunted palm trees, the coastal town narrows down to the decaying Pit that marks Esch’s home. There is no refuge to be found there – the weight of Esch’s growing belly, and the ominous approach of the coming storm means that the reader is all too aware that there is no place that Esch feels safe.

And at the heart of it all, what makes this book so brilliant, is the way in which the author plays with the theme of motherhood – what it means to experience maternal loss, and what it may mean to become a mother – especially when one is all but still a child.

The twelve days pass with an increasing ratcheting up of the tension and the trauma. This book is brilliant.





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Published by Deborah Siddoway

Dickens enthusiast, book lover, wine drinker, writer, lover of all things Victorian, and happily divorced mother of two lovely (and very tall) boys.

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