So, this is very delayed – last week I read Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward and Can You Ever Forgive Me: Memoires of Literary Forger by Lee Israel.  First up, Can You Ever Forgive Me (which was recently made into a movie) the true account of how Lee Israel during the 90’s forged and sold letters purporting to be from Noel Coward, Dorthy Parker, and several others. Israel is actually pretty likeable in print, although you get the sense you might not really want her as an officemate. The story itself is more of a short story than a memoir — I think it clocks in at 126 pages, and the font is not small. This might be one instance where you’re fine just seeing the movie or don’t get much out of reading the book and seeing the movie. I enjoyed the movie more than I expected to, so I requested the book from my library back in November. I’m still trying to figure out what the heck the person who had it out before me was doing for 6 weeks with the book — using it as a primer on how to become a literary forger???

I really liked Salvage the Bones — although that feels a bit strange to say since the book is about Katrina. I recently had the amazing opportunity to meet Jesmyn Ward and hear her read some of Sing Unburied Sing (and get my copy signed !). And that prompted me to decide it was high time I read the rest of her books.

Salvage the Bones is set in Bois Savage, Mississippi and begins about two weeks before Hurricane Katrina strikes. The main character is Esh, a fifteen year old girl, and her three brothers (Randall, Skeetah, and Junior) all play main roles as well. Their mother died giving birth to Junior, and their father isn’t great — although he takes storm preparedness pretty seriously so that’s good, although, against a category 5 hurricane, it doesn’t really end up being quite enough… Their lost mother is definitely a presence in the story (although not a ghostly presence as with Sing Unburied Sing):

When [Esh’s grandmother] died, Mam told me that she had gone away, and then I wondered where she went. Because everyone else was crying, I clung like a monkey to Mama, my legs and arms wrapped around her softness, and I cried, loved running through me like a hard, blinding summer rain. And then Mama died, and there was no one left for me to hold on to.

I miss her so badly I have to swallow salt, imagine it running like lemon juice into the fresh cut that is my chest, feel it sting.

I checked, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell you that Esh is pregnant because that fact is included in the book flap summary. So there’s a fair amount of pre-storm drama – and I worried over this motherless soon-to-be mother especially knowing Katrina was coming. The storm doesn’t actually show up until page 215. There’s a lot of sort of dread in reading most of the book because you the reader have a sense of what’s coming and the characters very much do not. Hurricanes, they are somewhat used to. But not Katrina.

There is a lot of sadness in this book, and that sadness is beautifully conveyed. But, I will say that while the end was hardly happy, it was redeeming enough that you didn’t finish this book feeling nearly as bad as I expected to going in.

Read Salvage the Bones, skip Can You Ever Forgive Me.

Currently reading: Eloquent Rage and The Interestings.