Salvage The Bones
By Jesmyn Ward
Completed June 12, 2012
I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Many reviews about Salvage The Bones advised animal lovers not to read this book because of its dog fighting theme. Yes, I was warned, but I wanted to read it anyway. Set in the American South at the brink of Hurricane Katrina, the story was right in my wheelhouse. I figured I could skip the dog fighting scenes – and I did, but it wasn’t enough.
Why? Simply put – it wasn’t just about the dog fighting scenes or the breeding of pit bull puppies to be fighters (though both incidents are frightful enough). My issue is this: I never got the sense that Jesmyn Ward was condemning dog fighting. I couldn’t find an underlying message that spoke against this cruelty.
I am assuming Ward included dog fighting in Salvage The Bones because it’s a popular past time in certain pockets of the American South. But the animal lover in me wonders what’s the point. Did it strengthen the story? Make the family’s plight more deplorable? I don’t think it did. And with the absence of a strong message that condemns dog fighting, I wonder why you need it.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am sure Jesmyn Ward isn’t for dog fighting. I just wish she made dog fighting an allegorical theme.
The rest of the book was good. The characters were complex and believable. Their lives of poverty were startling. The effects of Katrina were devastating. Yes, everything else about Salvage The Bones was spot on. But the dog fighting was too much for me.
So, heed my warning. Don’t read this book if you hate dog fighting, if you are against breeding dogs to fight and are tired of pit bulls being used in this manner. Salvage The Bones will not be the book for you – just like it wasn’t the book for me.