This was my first foray into so-called “Katrina literature.” I was living in Dallas during Hurricane Katrina, and felt a connection to that disastrous event. A couple of weeks after the hurricane, I had an opportunity to go down with a group of people and help: cutting and removing limbs, tearing out moldy dry wall, moving and sorting other debris. That was a great experience. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward was not.
I wanted to connect to this book, and given my experience, thought that I could. Katrina touched this country, and I am not saying for one second that it should not be written about. But from start to finish, from title to “The End,” this book rang inauthentic and like the author was trying WAY too hard.
She is a capable writer. There was nothing wrong with the grammar, the writing, or even the layout of the story. But it did not move me. I could not identify with a single character.
The main character, Esch, is a young teenage girl growing up impoverished and promiscuous in coastal Mississippi. And yet (implausibly), she is a huge Greek mythology afficionado. Too much suspension of disbelief for this daydreamer.
There was also a heavy dog-fighting theme that I was left doubting the author, an educated MFA, had much experience with (at least I would hope not).
Suffice it to say, not my favorite reading experience. Actually, truth be told, I instantly hated it, but broke my rule of no longer reading books I am not enjoying, convincing myself it was something I should read. I am not glad I persevered.
And then, in preparing for this review, I see that Jesmyn Ward just won The National Book Award for Fiction with this book. Of course. Because this is one of those books. Written as an award grabber. And how are you not going to give the award to the touching Katrina tale with the coming-of-age underprivileged teenage girl that somehow loves Greek mythology story?
Call me bitter, call me jaded, call me close-minded, but this book was not award-winning caliber. I don’t only want to read stories about people just like me, and don’t. But I think you should write what you know, not what you know people will claim to like because it is politically incorrect not to. Sorry, Jesmyn. Nothing personal. You got the award, though, so what do I know, or what do you care? But I would like to see you use your skill to write something truer to your own experience.