Book Quote:

What China is doing is fighting, like she was born to do. Fight our shoes, fight other dogs, fight these puppies that are reaching for the outside, blind and wet. China’s sweating and the boys are gleaming, and I can see Daddy through the window of the shed, his face shining like the flash of a fish under the water when the sun hit. It’s quiet. Heavy. Feels like it should be raining, but it isn’t. There are no stars, and the bare bulbs of the Pit burn.

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (FEB 8, 2014)

This bighearted, voluptuous, riveting book – one of my favorites of the decade – is filled with contradictions. It tells an apocalyptic and ancient tale but its topic is fresh and timely. It is told without any pretensions yet it’s lyrical and bracing. It focuses on the microcosm of a family under pressure yet its theme is universal and its messages integrate age-old mythologies.

As the book opens, China – the pure white pit bull – is turning on herself, trying to eat her paws. The winds of Hurricane Katrina are gathering force. And the narrator, a young precocious and sensitive teenager named Esch, is realizing that she is pregnant. These forces and situations add up to classic tragedy, but Jesmyn Ward has other things in mind. Esch and her brothers – Skeetah, whose life and passions revolve around his prized dog and her puppies; Randall, whose dream is to get a basketball camp scholarship; and, Junior, the youngest – are a unit who support each other.

As Katrina closes in — as the internal storms play out — we view a world that is steeped with violence and tenderness. Nothing is as expected. Let me interject that I share my home with two dogs and every cell of my body abhors pit bull fighting. Yet when the inevitable scene arrived, it shattered every single one of my expectations. Skeetah massages and speaks to China like a lover; his rival coaches Kilo, the other dog, calling him “son.” Some of it is written in love language: “China flings her head back into the air as if eating oxygen, gaining strength, and burns back down to Kilo and takes his neck in her teeth. She bears down, curling to him, a loving flame, and licks.” This is a book that dares you to confront yourself at an elemental level.

As an added level, Jesmyn Ward weaves in the Medea and Jason story and other Greek myths. Esch is young in years, but old in wisdom: she already knows that “There is never a meeting in the middle. There is only a body in the ditch, and one person walking toward or away from it.” While she is tethered to earth – her father’s hands are “like gravel,” her brother’s blood “smells like wet hot earth,” her mind is unleashed and floats to the sky.

The tenderness – yes, tenderness! – between Skeetah and China, the bond between China and Esch (“China will bark and call me sister. In the star-suffocated sky, there is a waiting silence…”), and the desperation and love of this family elevates it far beyond most other contemporary books I have read. A day after reading it, I am still in its thrall.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 285 readers
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury USA; Reprint edition (April 24, 2012)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Other National Book Award Winners:



February 8, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters, Literary, National Book Award Winner, Reading Guide, US South, y Award Winning Author

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