Planting Roots, Reading Books: “Sing, Unburied, Sing!” Review

(Note: this book review is my Mississippi pick for my Make America Read Again challenge. to read the full list of books this year, click here. I also was given this advanced copy of the book in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley and Scribner publishing, thank you to both for the honor and opportunity.)

 

Before moving to Atlanta, Charles and I experienced a season of life that we dubbed “the Nomadic years.” Between the two of us, we spent the past decade bouncing between Greenville, Charleston, Boston, Los Angeles, and Birmingham. We both took a strange sort of pride in our amalgamation of home-bases, of being from a little bit of everywhere (but of course, always claiming Alabama as our true home).  We were used to constantly shifting, adapting, and never committing to one city or friend group because after all, a few months or a year later, we would be moving on again.

So now that we’ve moved to Atlanta, we sometimes struggle with the realization that this city of Coca-Cola and Chick-Fil-A will most likely be our home for the next several decades.  How does one establish the adult-version of home??!

It took us several months to adjust to this new way of life – of driving to work instead of walking or taking the subway, of oppressively hot summers and laughably nonexistent winters, of strangers who stop to talk to you just to talk and not to ask for money or favors. It wasn’t until this summer that we truly started forming real roots in this town, reaching out to old friends from high school and college who are now based within “the ATL,” or branching out into new social circles. But once we did, our summer plans exploded into dinner dates, weekend volunteering, and day trips across the state line. Every weekend since June has been absolutely packed, y’all. And we didn’t even take a big vacation!

So, suffice it to say my plans for the “summer of writing” were completely dashed. C’est la vie, it was still worth it.

However, Charles and I were getting a bit run down with all the excitement- the only “home-cooked” meal we had for weeks was the occasional random salad we threw together, our laundry basket was overflowing, and our cats (d’Artagnan and Gilbert, named after literary characters naturally) were feeling rather ignored.  So we spent this Labor Day weekend regrouping and resetting our lives.

 

Green Gables State of Mind
When exhaustion hits

 

 

And of course I made time for a whole lot of reading :).

 

Review: Sing, Unburied Sing!

sing unburied sing

Y’all, this latest novel by Jesmyn Ward (out tomorrow!) was such a deeply compelling read. This was the first story by Jesmyn Ward I had ever read, though I’ve seen her in several interviews and already knew she was an intellectual, articulate creative. Plus she is a Southerner and her story settings are in the South, so I already knew her work fit right into my wheelhouse.  The opening pages proved my gut right – Ward is incredibly gifted at transporting you into her Mississippi.

The sky has turned the color of sandy red clay: orange cream. The heat of the day at its heaviest: the insects awoken from their winter slumber. I cannot bear the world.

Ward’s novel is a Mississippi Delta-styled Odyssey, as twelve-year-old Joseph sets out on a roadtrip with his less-than-stellar mother Leonie, his toddler sister Kayla, and Leonie’s best friend Misty. They are heading up to Parchman to pick up JoJo and Kayla’s white father (Leonie’s boyfriend) Michael from jail, where he has spent the past three years serving time for drug dealing. Meanwhile, JoJo and Kayla’s grandparents (and their true parental figures) as the grandmother is suffering from her bout of cancer. Naturally, several disasters ensue.

This book is the epitome of a dysfunctional family novel, and Ward does not hesitate to bring in the dark and grisly for this realistic portrayal of life in the South. The opening chapter includes a rather ghastly description of JoJo slaying a goat with his grandfather for their weekly meal prep. When reading this book, the writing causes you to use all five senses – whether you want to or not, you and those characters are smelling and seeing and hearing the same things.

“I washed my hands every day, Jojo. But that damn blood ain’t never come out.”

 

Every theme you can think of for a typical Southern novel comes into play in this book – race relations, poverty, religion and superstition, substance abuse, family dynamics, and agriculture come sharply into focus in turn. And yet each issue is brought to the reader’s attention with such grace and subtlety, you hardly understand what Ward accomplished until about thirty pages later. And she handles some of the more volatile subjects with such care and reality, it’s truly a work of art.

The majority of the book is a character study, but an added layer to this story is the theme of ghosts, both literal and figurative. Evoking the style of Toni Morrison, spirits do haunt several of the characters; but other family members are merely are haunted by their past. Part of this novel is about the ability to move from the past, to forgive yourself as well as others, to learn from your mistakes – or the failure to do these things. Mostly, Ward displays a deep and unabiding empathy for her characters; for their intrinsic humanness, for their custom combinations of vice and virtue.

Frankly, this novel ripped me apart a bit, and I think the ghosts of JoJo and Kayle and Pap are going to stay with me for quite some time.

This book is going to be big, y’all. Read it, read it, read it. (With tissues). Again, it’s being released TOMORROW!

Rating: 5/5 Stars, if not more

Read if: You love Southern Fiction, family-driven novels, you’re a human with a soul

 

 

Now that I’m back to the blogging world, what books did you read over the holiday weekend?  Do y’all have any suggestions on books to read that are set in New Mexico or South Dakota? I’m still struggling to find books for a few states… 

 

 

One thought on “Planting Roots, Reading Books: “Sing, Unburied, Sing!” Review

  1. If you are considering reading classic literature for your project, I highly recommend Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop for New Mexico (although it was only a territory at the time the novel takes place).

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