The basics: Salvage the Bones is the story of Esch, a pregnant fourteen-year-old girl in New Orleans in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Since her mother died, Esch helps care for her alcoholic father and three brothers. Much of the action also focuses on China, the pet pit bull who gives birth as the novel opens.
My thoughts: When the National Book Award finalists were first announced, I had heard the most about Salvage the Bones (of the three I had not read.) Two bloggers whose opinions I trust, Audra at Unabridged Chick and Heather at Raging Bibliomania, liked it but found the subject matter quite difficult. As someone who lacks an affinity for dogs and is downright afraid of aggressive dogs, I was curious how the focus on pit bull fighting would work for me. In short: I wanted more Esch and less of the dogs.
Jesmyn West does not hold back in this novel. It is a raw, gritty and humanizing tale. Here, Esch describes why she has sex:
"And it was easier to let him keep on touching me than ask him to stop, easier to let him inside than push him away, easier than hearing him ask me, Why not? It was easier to keep quiet and take it than to give him an answer."Esch finds fascination and often strength in the story of Medea, which is a personal favorite of mine (I loved it when I read it, but then I got to see Phylicia Rashad play Medea, I loved it even more.) West continuously uses Esch's focus on Medea to point out the correlations between ancient Greece and modern day New Orleans. These correlations proved to be my favorite parts of the novel.
Favorite passage: "She is calm and self-possessed as a housecat; it is the way that all girls who only know one boy move. Centered as if the love that boy feels for them anchors them deep as a tree’s roots, holds them still as the oaks, which don’t uproot in hurricane wind. Love as certainty."
The verdict: Overall, I found the action uneven. I wanted more character action and less descriptions of the dogs. West painted a scene of one fractured family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina, but I wish it were more focused on Esch than the supporting characters. The other characters were strong, but I wanted more Esch. She's a dynamic, troubled woman, and she continues to fascinate me.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: August 30, 2011
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
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