Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward*****

Oh hell yes. Congratulations to Jesmyn Ward for making the long list of the #NationalBookAward for 2017.

Seattle Book Mama

SingUnburiedI had never read Ward’s work before, and now that I have I will follow her anywhere. Sing Unburied, Sing is a literary masterpiece, and one that fits the time in which we live. It opens up all sorts of thorny questions for examination, but like most thorns, it stings. I received my copy free and early courtesy of Scribner and Net Galley. This title is available to the public now.

Jojo and Kayla have been raised by their grandparents in rural Mississippi; Mam and Pop are their source of love and stability. Leonie, the mother they call by her first name as if she were a sister, drifts in and out, using copious amounts of meth and other drugs. Michael, the children’s Caucasian father, is being released from Parchman, the notorious prison where he has been sent after having killed Leonie’s brother, Given. Given comes to her when she’s…

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Home from the Hill, by William Humphrey *****

homefromthehillHome from the Hill, a National Book Award finalist about to be re-released, is the kind of story that lingers and affects the reader’s mood long after it is over. Upon completing the DRC, I felt a sense of loss that only comes with really splendid literature. So thank you Open Road Integrated Media, and thank you Net Galley for hooking me up. And if the spirit of the late, great author lingers among us, I want to thank him for tearing out my heart and feeding it to me with a spoon. It’s that good.

We know from the get-go that this one won’t end well. We think we are prepared for it. The people that live in that sleepy little Depression-era Texas town are a closed-mouthed lot, but the narrator is telling us things that the stranger in their midst doesn’t know. We know it’s a tragic tale because of this, but later we get so caught up in the magic being spun that we forget ourselves, and we cannot help hoping.

Boomer-gens like this reviewer may find colloquialisms and slang terms they had long forgotten; my own family, some of whom harkened from that neck of the woods, used them liberally some fifty years ago. Between this and the skillful use of setting and character, I felt as if I were sitting in the Captain’s den (though women are really not allowed there) listening to Chauncey spin his hunting stories, ones borne of longstanding oral tradition. I almost fell off the bed when I saw the word “larruping”. I had thought it was an onomatopoeia until I read it. I had forgotten the term entirely, but Humphrey brought it back, and I could hear it in my father’s voice, though he has been dead most of my life.

Ahem. The story. All right, let’s try this: what if Shakespeare had written Romeo and Juliet, but instead of his characters fantasizing and vowing not be Capulet or Montague, they had said, “Well of course, I am a Capulet, and you are a Montague, but we’ll give it time. They’ll come around.” But oh my my my, they would have been so very wrong. Nobody is going to do anything of the sort.

In a sense, Humphrey almost makes Shakespeare seem shallow, because the foundation of his tragic love story is this: we may love someone our families may not prefer, yet we are still what we came from. Even as we strive to be better people, different people than those who bore us and those that came before them, a piece of them remains at the core of what we are.

So although Theron wants to be someone better than his mother and certainly better than his father, it’s just not that simple. He is an independent, whole new person, with his own ideas, dreams, and resolutions…and he is still his father’s son. And he is still Hannah’s lad.

Libby loves her parents dearly, and when things go wrong, it is them she turns to. But of course, there is Theron. She loves him, and nobody else will really do. Surely, in a world made of fine people with the best of intentions, there ought to be a way?

Not so much.

I’ve read a few sad-sack reviews written by former literature students who have whined that they were required to read this in college. I want to smack those people upside the head and tell them to be grateful, and maybe go back and read it again.

All I know for sure is that it not only immersed me in another time and another place…it also reminded me of who I am.