Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward
Because I am a multitasker (yes I realize this is a flaw not a virtue) I am an avid audio book consumer. I listen to novels and stories, memoirs and nonfiction while I cook, garden, and take long walks. I begin my day with a glance at the hour-by-hour weather. There’s nearly always a respite from the rain, even here in Portland where we’ve had 147 (*@#*) days of rain since October. This winter my rain gear has seen a lot of miles. Walking in weather was absolutely appropriate as I listened to Jesmyn Ward’s gorgeous novel, Salvage the Bones. Ward writes voluptuous, corporeal prose, never letting us look away from muscle and bone, from the fecund landscape of Mississippi, from heat and wind and water. Set in Beau Sauvage, a fiercely loyal family of four children and a widowed, emotionally absent father, barely prepare for an incoming hurricane. What will become Katrina whorls in the periphery as Randall obsesses about basketball—his way out, Skeetah worries about his prize pit bull and her whelps who, one by one, are dying, and Esch, the only woman in the household, has her own secret. Fifteen, motherless, she is newly pregnant.
…the sickness and the vomiting make me think I should get a test, that and me being two months irregular and the way I wake up every morning with my abdomen feeling full, fleshy and achy and wet, like the blood’s going to come running down any minute—only it doesn’t.
Esch’s secret, the dying puppies, Randall’s slim chances for a different life, and the growing storm, all create profluence, that desire in the reader to turn the pages, or in my case, to walk a little farther.
A steady force in the novel, Esch’s dead mother makes appearances through flashback. As Esch and her brother’s begin to comprehend the hurricane’s threat, worried about stockpiling enough food, they scavenge for eggs in the trees around their home.
The chickens have made their own plans for the storm; they have packed their eggs away, hidden them well. As Randall and Junior and I spread out underneath the oaks and pines, hunting, Randall crouches down next to Junior, and he tells him how Mama taught us to find eggs. Look but don’t look, she said. They’ll find you. You gotta wander and they’ll come. She’d leaned over like Randall, her strong hand soft on the back of my neck, steadying me like a dog. They’re usually brown and have some feathers stuck to them, she’d say, pointing. The eggs look that way because of the mama. Whatever color the mama is, that’s what color the egg is. Her lips were pink, and when she leaned over like that I could smell baby powder drifting from the front of her dress, see the mole marked skin of her chest, the soft fall of her breasts down into her bra. Like me and you, she said. Like me and you. See? She smiled at me, and her eyelashes met her eyelashes like a Venus flytrap. Her thick arm would rub against mine, and I would follow her pointing, and there would be a whole treasure of eggs, nestled one against the other: cream and white and brown and dark brown and speckled so that they almost looked black. The hens would lurk, murmuring. The cock, he always running off being a bully, she said. But the mama, the mama always her. See?
This passage is so filled with love and yearning. It stopped me on my walk, to rewind and listen again. I even visited Powell’s on my way home to buy the book (you can buy it too, use the link above), so I could read what she’d written. So much is going on, the impending violence of the storm, the need for food, the lurking mothers, what we pass on to our children, the comfort and threat of our bodies…baby powder and Venus flytraps. I cannot recommend this novel enough.
Sometimes breakfast for dinner is a delight! When the power is out and all you have is the stovetop, when you want something comforting and simple, when you’re engrossed in an excellent novel and don’t want to stop to make dinner. My children loved backward days, and what we called Bird Nests. I still do.
2 hearty slices of whole grain bread
2 lg. eggs
butter for pan
Use a glass to cut a circle from the center of each slice of bread. Melt generous amount of butter in a cast iron frying pan. Crack each egg into its own ramekin and set near the pan. Place bread in pan, let brown on one side. Flip over and gently pour egg into the circle. Repeat with second slice. Cook for 3 minutes, flip bread and cook 2 minutes more for a runny yolk. Salt and pepper to your liking. Serve with maple roasted bacon and you are set!