Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing - Jesmyn Ward ------------------------ 4 Stars

I don't necessarily read a lot of new releases or "hot" books, but I simply saw too many out of the universe reviews about Sing, Unburied, Sing to avoid. While not a captivating read, the symbolism and poetic nature of this novel made it shine in many ways.

I remember in an 11th grade English class a teacher and I were talking about what kind of books I liked to read. At that time I had the naive thought that I wanted to be a lawyer and was reading a number of John Grisham novels. After mentioning those, the teacher quickly called them "airport trash" and looked down upon me for reading those types of books. As I pressed him, he gave a fairly snobbish view that I should be reading Literature (think nice English accent). Hundred of books later, I totally understand the difference. Now I don't have the same pretense that some books that are not "literature" are trash. In fact, many of the highly reviewed books I have blogged about would fall into the latter category (because, trash or not, they are highly entertaining!). His point, though, is that books that are Literature have a bit more to them. Well, this book certainly falls in the Literature category.

As I alluded to, this book is getting great press right now, and deservedly so. It is an incredibly well written, poem like novel about a young black boy and his multi-generational family during a short period in their lives in Mississippi. The boy, who's father is in jail, has a drug abusing mother, is being raised by his grandparents, and takes care of his younger sister. The story jumps chapters, and time periods, and first person characters, throughout the novel.

While I enjoyed many elements of the story, I'm not sure I could say it was my favorite book of recent memory. First, the good. The story is fascinating and the plot interesting. I also loved the character development; each of them was unique and full in so many ways. She also is a genuinely great writer with details so vivid it was easy to picture the poor house in rural Mississippi that much of the story takes place. Although I'll go into my challenges in a second, I did love the imagery and poetic nature of the story. So much symbolism and foreshadowing, and though I couldn't keep up (see below), I did appreciate the writing and did what I could with my Poli. Sci. degree.

So, my challenges mostly include that it was written almost too well. Does that make sense? As a true piece of "Literature" (that should be taught in high school classrooms, btw), this book included many literary elements that, while I did my best to keep up with, were beyond me in some cases. I appreciated the creativity but the symbolism, biblical references, ghost like persons, etc. were just too much for me. And, as the novel moved on, they occurred more and more. Some were fascinating though too often, I had to question my own reading of the novel to check for understanding (maybe a good thing?!?).

Overall, I do highly recommend this book. First, my high school English teacher would be proud of you for reading Literature and not airport trash. Second, if you are are like me, you read too many books that are not diverse (check your author list - lot of white dude/gals?). Third, this is a great story with great characters. Finally, don't let my limited/challenged read of the book affect you. You will get out of if what you will, and you'll go online to have smarter people explain to you if you don't 😉.

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