The Not-So-Calm Before the Storm: Jesmyn Ward’s Katrina Story

Katrina doesn’t arrive until Salvage the Bones is almost over, but the hurricane has always been coming. She broods over the whole of Jesmyn Ward’s epic 2011 novel, even when the only one who seems to know she’s on the way is Esch’s Daddy, whose preparations seem excessive to his four children living with him […]

How a Mississippi Man’s Struggles with Weight Tell the Truth about America

“America understands itself as God’s handiwork, but the black body is the clearest evidence that America is the work of men.”  —Ta-Nehasi Coates, Between the World and Me I confess that I picked up Heavy, Kiese Laymon’s staggering memoir about growing up bright and black in Mississippi, with more than a little curiosity about the obesity […]

Heartlands Best Reads of 2017: #6 Sing, Unburied, Sing

Mississippi has many layers.  William Faulkner knew this and crafted his intricate tales of Yoknapatawpha County with characters haunted by the past, spurred by subterranean passions, and trapped in violent, tragic relationships.  Jesmyn Ward claims Faulkner as an literary influence and it shows in her rich novels of Bois Sauvage, like Yoknapatawpha, a fictional rendering […]

A Tear for Bois Sauvage: A Review of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

It’s not often that the ending of a book makes me moist-eyed.  And I can’t ever recall when the acknowledgements did that.  But there it was in the final sentences on page 289 of Sing, Unburied, Sing, the 2017 National Book Award-winning novel by Jesmyn Ward:  “In closing, I’d like to thank everyone in my […]

Dreaming Something Real: A Review of Music of the Swamp by Lewis Nordan

“Probably the real self is in fact the invented self fully accepted.”  That’s Lewis Nordan’s justification for declaring that his outrageous, out-sized fiction is actually memoir.  He created himself through imagining a different past, different circumstances, and a different father than the disappointing realities he knew as a child growing up in Itta Bena, Mississippi.  […]