There’s a larger sense of story that preoccupies Jesmyn Ward in this book, and that’s the history of our United States, which has forever shouted freedom and equality from the rooftops while living quite another reality. History flies at ten thousand feet, some say, while personal life flies much closer to the ground. Ward is wise, since her historical story is more implied than overt, to have stuck so much closer to the Southern soil and the lives of her characters, relying on a Faulknerian-style of prose to carry both astute readers and critics to the final page. Perhaps her non-story story is a statement to elbow into America’s version of postmodern literature, or perhaps it’s an attempt to lay bare, in ways no other modern American writer seems capable of, the personalities and plights of poor Southern blacks and whites in ways more applicable to early twenty-first century life. Ward, besides being a fluent novelist, is an academic, so I’ll have to go with my first inclination, perhaps. But this story-less tendency among insightful, talented writers such as the uber-talented Ward has and, I think always will, strike me as a trifle lazy.
That said, her characters are damned real. They vacillate, the pose, they live moment by moment in her paraphrasing of their lives. They search for dignity, but they do it the hard way by doing what they damned well please – and inconsistently at that. I’m big on equally adept dialogue, and hers is a small disappointment here, but her narrative carries the day for this, her National Book Award winning novel.
Visit our website here, where you’ll find more on our books. There’s also a Facebook fan page or two if you can find them. On both you’ll discover more on ideas and events that matter to us — and possibly to you.