In the days before Hurricane Katrina is to hit Bois Savage, Mississippi, families are preparing their homes for the event as they’ve always done. Young Esch and her brothers have been left to their own devices since their mother’s death as their father is usually too drunk to care for them. One brother struggles to win a coveted scholarship to basketball camp, one dotes on his Pit Bull who has just birthed a liter of valuable puppies, Esch reaches a startling and unwelcome epiphany, and the youngest just gets in everyone’s way.
This is a very difficult book to read, and thus this review isn’t writing itself, as they sometimes do. There’s poverty, there’s neglect, there’s dog fighting, and there’s impending tragedy. Then there are the victims fighting against poverty the only way they know how, there are children caring for one another in the absence of caring adults, there’s the beauty of a loving and loyal dog. And then tragedy still.
At stories end, father and child reach a tender, yet tenuous understanding. But the tragedy has overwhelmed and muted all good things. I rarely seek out author interviews or professional reviews to help me understand. I prefer to let the story tell me what I’m supposed to know. But in the case of Salvage the Bones, reading an interview with Jesmy Ward in the Paris Review helped me grasp the importance of her work. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time to come.