One of Publishers Weekly‘s Top 10 Books of 2013
Men We Reaped: A Memoir
In this riveting memoir of the ghosts that haunt her hometown in Mississippi, two-time novelist and National Book Award–winner Ward (Salvage the Bones) writes intimately about the pall of blighted opportunity, lack of education, and circular poverty that hangs over the young, vulnerable African-American inhabitants of DeLisle, Miss., who are reminiscent of the characters in Ward’s fictionalized Bois Sauvage. The five young black men featured here are the author’s dear friends and her younger brother, whose deaths between 2000 and 2004 were “seemingly unrelated,” but all linked to drug and alcohol abuse, depression, and a general “lack of trust” in the ability of society—and, ultimately, family and friends—to nurture them. The first to die (though his story is told last in the book) was her brother, Joshua, a handsome man who didn’t do as well in school as Ward and was stuck back home, doing odd jobs while his sister attended Stanford and later moved to N.Y.C. Joshua died senselessly after being struck by a drunk driver on a dark coastal road one night. The “wolf” that tracked all of these young men—and the author, too, when she experienced the isolation of being black at predominantly white schools—was the sense of how little their lives mattered. Ward beautifully incorporates the pain and guilt woven her and her brother’s lives by the absence and failure of their father, forcing their mother to work as a housekeeper to keep the family afloat. Ward has a soft touch, making these stories heartbreakingly real through vivid portrayal and dialogue.
Jesmyn Ward grew up and currently lives in DeLisle, Mississippi. She was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford and the 2010-2011 John and Renée Grisham Visiting Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. Her debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds (2008), was an Essence Magazine Book Club selection, the recipient of a Black Caucus of the ALA Honor Award, and a finalist for both the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Ward is the professor of creative writing at the University of South Alabama located in Mobile. http://www.nationalbook.org/nba2011_f_ward.html#.UsL7slOMmSo