Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward ****

This summer we went down to the Gulf for vacation.  Our first stop was Biloxi, Mississippi.  We went directly to the tourism center, which is housed in a beautiful antebellum mansion right on the beach.  It was a gorgeous house & Puppy was especially impressed with the porches on both the first & second floors that had some nice ceiling fans.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that this building had only just opened last year.  The original house, which had stood there for many years, was completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.  Biloxi had painstakingly rebuilt it to look exactly like it had before.

As we drove along the main drag we noticed several blank spaces in between other homes & businesses.  It was then that the destruction that Katrina had unleashed on the gulf coast really hit home for me.  Being from the middle of the US & not having much experience of being around the ocean I never really could wrap my head around the images I saw of the post-Katrina apocalypse.  Being there made it much more real.

Salvage the Bones is about the days leading up to Katrina & it's immediate aftermath.  It's the story of Esch, a 14 year old girl living in poverty in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi.  Her mother died 6 years ago giving birth to her little brother.  She lives with her drunken father & her 3 brothers:  Randall, the oldest who takes care of everyone; Skeetah, who loves his pit bull China more than most people; & Junior, who's lived his life not knowing his mother & being raised by Esch & Randall.

The family lives in extreme poverty on a patch of land called The Pit just outside of town.  Never is there any reference in the book to there being a female that Esch calls friend.  It's just her & her brothers & their friends--that's the whole circle of her world.  She's in love with Randall's best friend, Manny, who uses her for her body & then never acknowledges her otherwise.  She discovers that she's pregnant just as Skeetah's dog China gives birth to her first litter of puppies, & from that moment on her story, China's story, & the story of Medea (she is reading Bulfinch's Mythology for school) all become intertwined as the book unfolds.

I'd never heard about this book before, even though it won the National Book Award a few years back.  I wonder if maybe it's because of the references to & descriptions of dog fighting, which has come more into the spotlight since Michael Vick was arrested for it.  It's such a horrible sport, but the way Ward describes the bizarre way in which these boys love their dogs, yet fight them so brutally, is mesmerizing.
Love & death.  The two eternal mysteries, told in a compelling & touching way by Jesmyn Ward.  Katrina the destroyer--it's the stuff of mythology.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Swimming in Mud

Over 3 months.  I can't say I haven't read anything, but what I've read has been rather light.  It's been hard.  I don't know why exactly, other than maybe I've been depressed. 
Funny how writing about what I've been reading & how I've been feeling go hand in hand.  Maybe because you have to be in a mental place, a good place, to read & analyze what you think of a book.  I haven't been clear of head to make the effort to figure out what I think of anything I read. 
Trying to figure out why I feel this way seemed complicated.  But once I started thinking about it, it was rather simple.  There has a been a firing spree at my job & it frightens & disturbs me.  I've worked at the same place for 15 years & in that time I've formed relationships with my fellow workers that transcended the normal acquaintanceship.  It has to do with Puppy's traumatic birth & first 5 months of life.  He was born at the hospital I work at & in that time period he was hospitalized there 11 more times.  During those stressful months when Dog & I didn't know if Puppy would live or die, the people I work with acted as a huge support to us.  They bought us dinner & brought it by our apartment.  They collected money on Christmas Eve & one of my coworkers blushingly brought a card by Puppy's hospital room with the unknown-to-us cash inside & just said, "Merry Christmas".  Over $100.00 spontaneously gathered in a matter of a couple hours.  When my ETO ran out, they donated their own to me.  It was a large check, one that helped us buy a house.  In short, they were another family to me.  A bizarre, dysfunctional family filled with some very odd people, but then again don't all families fit that description?
And now some of them are effectively dead to me.  I've never been one to have a lot of interaction outside of work with my co-workers.  There are always a couple that are closer to me, but most are just people that I truly enjoy talking to while doing my job.  So when I come to work after being off a day & find out that someone I've worked with the whole time I've been at this hospital has been summarily fired, even though they may have worked there for more than 30 years, it's like they're gone.  I didn't communicate with them outside of work, so it would be odd to contact them now.  But I so miss them.
And so I've been grieving.  And I've been scared.  There hasn't been a firing since May, but that might not mean anything.  I try not to take it personally or get too worked up about it, & I've been doing a pretty good job of that lately.  But a part of me has been hurt badly. 
So just in the past 2 weeks I've felt like the swimming has gotten easier.  I've started a book I have to think about deeply in order to grasp, so we shall see what happens.  If anybody is still out there, thanks for hanging on.