Saturday, August 26, 2017

Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

Sing, Unburied, Sing Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finished this novel a week ago and haven't been able to write about it. It is so good, I just don't know how to do it justice. If I list the ingredients of the novel for you, the characters and events, it wouldn't start to explain how it feels to read it. I'll do my best.

I haven't read Jesmyn Ward before now. I am hyper aware of her, because her 2011 novel, Salvage the Bones, won the National Book Award. Still I didn't read it. I think I had it in my head that it was violent and gritty and like the same way I avoided Steinbeck for the same reasons, I was missing out. And the way this novel starts made me think first of Steinbeck, rather than Faulkner and Morrison who most people mention, probably because I've read a lot more of him lately. But there is a scene with a goat between Pop and Jojo, who we later discover are grandfather and grandson.

The novel is set in rural Mississippi, in poverty, and a situation where the grandparents have been the primary caretakers of their grandchildren. Their daughter (Leonie) is not a good mother for various reasons, and the (white) father is currently in jail, but since his family did not approve of his involvement with Leonie anyway, he was not a strong presence for the children. But now, Mam has cancer, and Pop has to shift his focus to her care.

There is more going on that is unveiled as the story progresses. Mam has the knowledge of the old country, herbal remedies, midwifery, and the ability to speak to the dead. She thinks her children should learn these things and has tried to teach Leonie. There is another connection between Leonie's brother and her baby-daddy's family.

All of this is going on and the author shifts between characters, bringing the reader into each person's experience and focus, and this is incredibly effective. The elements of the fantastical fit into the gritty, real environment in ways I would not have expected. Highly, highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing early access through NetGalley and Edelweiss (I accidentally requested it twice.) The book comes out 5 September 2017.

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