I finished Salvage the Bones this morning because I couldn’t stay up for the last 60 pages last night. I am keeping a list of every book I read in 2014 and this is #11. I seldom read out of my comfort zone and this book is most definitely NOT in my typical reading wheelhouse. It’s also the 2011 National Book Award Winner and I tend to not care for National Book Award Winners. However, Salvage the Bones showed up on enough “you really should read this” lists that I gave in and read it.
The narrator, Esch, is a 15-year-old girl whose mother died in childbirth when Esch was 8. She has two older brothers: one who has a fighting pit bull and the other hoping to make a name for himself in basketball. The youngest brother is only 7 and has some developmental disabilities. Their father, who clearly loved their mother very much, has checked into a bottle since she died. The Batiste kids are pretty much on their own at the Pit, which is what they call their homestead in the fictional Gulf Coast town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. The book covers 12 days in their lives in 2005. Esch realizes she is pregnant. The fighting pit bull has had a litter. Basketball scouts are coming. Their Daddy is worried about a hurricane out in the Gulf. The hurricane is named Katrina.
One doesn’t read this book as much as feel it. This book’s sense of foreboding is heart racing. The stricken reader knows what’s coming and knows it’s not good. Surprisingly, Salvage isn’t depressing. It is full to the point that it seems robust and stuffed like a pillow. The story is swollen so that the characters become pieces of each other, of the land and of the past. Salvage the Bones is crowded with fear, love, violence, poverty, profound sadness, and excitement.
I recommend it highly.
All that being said, I am also ashamed of myself.
I remember Katrina. Of course I do, it will only be nine years this summer. I remember watching the news in disbelief, thinking “I’m never going to see what New Orleans was really like”. I donated money to the Red Cross and the Humane Society. I was annoyed with those foolish people who didn’t evacuate. Duh, get the hell out of there!
And there is my shame. I have never been to the deep south. I don’t know what the communities are like there…rich or poor. Mostly though, I have no experience with extreme poverty. Why didn’t they just leave? Why were they so stupidly stubborn? It is my shame to realize they had no where to go. They had no food, no gas, no cable, no 24-hour news telling them what to do, no luggage — they had nothing to start with and less than that when the storm ended. How ignorant of me.
This book taught me about hurricanes: what the sky looks like and the heaviness of the air, the suffocating heat, and the terrifying water. It taught me about a population segment of the U.S. that I don’t see because I don’t have to. And now this book has me thinking some very uncomfortable thoughts about myself and the socioeconomic structure of this country. I’m not going to write a political post here and if people want to discuss the politics of then and now, I can; but that is not what I’m thinking about right now.
I am 49 years old. I read a short book (just 258 pages) and I have been deeply moved and educated. I can keep on reading. Therein lies the magic of books. Anything a reader wants can be found.
Katrina.French cooking.Space travel.Aliens.Dragons.Libraries.Murders.Jewel heists.Fantasy.Reality.Humor.Memoirs.Fairy tales.The Revolutionary War (U.S., French, Spanish, you choose).The presidency (of 4th grade, Russia, some imaginary university, you choose)
Read! Learn! Even if I think I won’t like a book or that a topic might upset me, I will keep reading just to see. And the book is always better than the movie; except for The Bridges of Madison County….the movie was way better.