Sydney has suddenly gone from the Arctic depths of winter to Saharan heat. There is something about unrelenting high temperatures that choke to the very back of the throat. Unconsciousness seems to be the only reprieve to the oppressive blanket that suffocates in its cruelty. Salvage the Bones is enveloped in the plague of such stifling heat; the pages burn with deprivation and despair. Did I mention I don’t like the heat?
Set over a twelve day period in the lead up to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, Salvage the Bones is told from the perspective of 15 year Esch. She reminded me of a slightly older Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird (although much less annoying); naïve and trying to understand the world. But while Scout has a role model in Atticus, Esch’s father is completely feckless. An alcoholic widower, there is not one redeeming quality in this man. There are hints of his love of his dead wife, Esch’s mother, but his dependence on the bottle strips away any ability to contribute in any emotional or physical way.
The life of Esch and her brothers is steeped in poverty. The family has no money (at all), nor do they have richness of aspiration. The filial affection between them is the only treasure they can possess and that at times is loosely gripped. I felt an incredible sense of despondency reading this novel. The hopelessness of the fate of this family subsumed me into melancholic stupor. And yet the writing is uniquely compelling that the plot is addictively heart-stopping. Ward’s unique ability to capture the texture of this family is amenable and willing.
I can’t say I loved this book because it left me feeling morose and defeated. But it was oddly gripping to read and there were many times I could not put it down.