4 stars: Men We Reaped – by Jesmyn Ward

Men We Reaped is the second book penned by Jesmyn Ward that I’ve read. And recently. For a reason.

My expectations were scattered:

  • Could it possibly live up to Ward’s incredible work in Salvage the Bones?
  • As a memoir, what themes will Ward weave through her writing that were or weren’t present in her other writing I’ve explored?
  • I know that she’s overwhelmed and passionate about racial equality – how will that be evoked?
  • The first word of the title is “men” – but it’s Ward’s memoir. Why?

In short: Ward didn’t disappoint. She explains from the get go precisely how she’s constructed the memoir, the order of chapters, the reasoning for the order… all without revealing just where she’s going or why.

She uses each chapter to reveal a section of time in her life and a relationship with a man that meant something to her – friends, acquaintances, her own brother. She’ll break your heart but you’ll learn something: about the narrator; about the racial divide in America in the 70s, 80s, and 90s; and quite possibly about yourself as well.

She loses these men – these incredible life connections – to drugs, accidents, poverty, and horrid luck. Ward pushes past these themes though in order to move beyond her grief, and to define her community and the mindset of a generation.


Rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Currently Reading this Beast

This beast of a book is taking me longer to finish than I expected and not for lack of trying… granted the beast itself is over 800 freaking pages.

Game of Thrones: the first in the famous series penned by Mr. George R. R. Martin. I have about another 70 pages to go.

I’ve yet to decide if I’ll critique it properly – I’m leaning toward “no” as the public view of Martin’s work and the current television show are already so awash with ideas and reviews. I’m enjoying both, no less.

Next on my list are a few library borrows, plus another one lent by a neighbour. In order:

  1. Men We Reaped by the recently reviewed Jesmyn Ward (my views here)
  2. Room by Emma Donoghue
  3. The Last Pulse by Anson Cameron

For more reviews and lists to peruse, check out Goodreads. My recommendations are here.

What are your top reads for 2016?

 

A Critique: Salvage the Bones – 5 out of 5 stars!

Salvage the Bones should be read for what it isn’t in addition to what it is. A truth about Hurricane Katrina and a truth about a family living a harder life than most would consider. And, how the elements of the world sometimes pile up against you to make things impossible and all you can hope for is to maybe survive.

Jesmyn Ward illustrates, to be blunt, a rough, extreme poverty-stricken family in Bois Savage, Mississippi in 2005. Ward is so brilliant with her story-telling that you forget the ultimate theme of the book despite the fact that’s written on the back cover: Hurricane Katrina.

As a first-time reader of Ward’s work, I immediately fell headfirst into the mindset of her narrator, fourteen year old Esch. Esch tells, first and foremost, her story, intertwining with her family, and the things that matter most to a young girl just trying to navigate life in the south with a drunk, often absent father, a deceased mother she’s just barely old enough to recall, and a slew of brothers to both watch over and out for. I felt for Esch, and I felt frustrated with her much of the time, as well.

Ward makes impressive use of Mississippi weather throughout her novel. She seems to make the weather work for her rather than the other way around – oft controlling and influencing us, as people. She paints the sticky humidity in the air, the red dust-covered ground Esch’s home sits on, the horror stories of past rain storms, and the ever-impending wind that comes with living near the sea.

Despite careful, gripping writing that you’re sure to remember, you’ll also find gritty, graphic scenes that you won’t like but won’t want to stop reading.

Since completing Salvage the Bones, I’ve, personally, added another of Ward’s books to my To Be Read list. She has a style and a voice that needs to be heard. The book I’ve added to my list is: Men We Reaped.

To learn more about Jesmyn Ward and her work, visit her page on Goodreads.


Rating: 5 of 5 stars