Tag Archives: Jesmyn Ward

Where the Line Bleeds, by Jesmyn Ward, Debut not new


Where the Line Bleeds

By Jesmyn Ward

Agate Publishing, 2008

239 pages

Jesmyn Ward is one of this year’s MacArthur Fellows. I have read some of her books, but not her debut novel, Where the Line Bleeds, so I decided to pick it up. This book is painstakingly beautiful. Each word, each moment, of the story is vital on the page. I read the book slowly, savoring the vivid world Ward created.

Christophe and Joshua, twins, have just graduated from high school in Bois Sauvage, a small Mississippi town near the Gulf. They were raised by their grandmother after their mother decamped to Atlanta, and their father, a heroin addict, disappeared. Their post high school plan is to find local jobs, at the Walmart, Burger King or, if they can, at the docks or local shipyard where the jobs pay more and are more stable.

The story unspools over the summer after they graduate. The twins’ lives take different paths but they remain steadfastly loyal to each other. I loved the writing in this book. Ward gracefully brought to life two boys who are trying to become men, finding their way in a world with limited financial opportunities. This is a family story, a coming-of-age story and a deeply Southern novel.

I reviewed Ward’s memoir, Men We Reaped, a few years back. And she just published her third novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing. If you have not yet read her work, you can’t go wrong with any of her books. She is a masterful writer.





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Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward


Men We Reaped

By Jesmyn Ward

Bloomsbury Press, 2013

256 pages

Jesmyn Ward’s debut memoir, Men We Reaped, about growing up in DeLisle, Mississippi, a low income coastal Mississippi town, and the deaths of five young men (between the ages of 19 and 32) she grew up with, provides a unique look at inequality in the United States.

Ward’s family has been in DeLisle since the early 20th century. She begins her story with the history of her grandparents, and great-grandparents, and how her parents met. She continues to chronologically tell her own coming-of-age story in this small rural community in a state where 23% of the population, and 35% of Blacks, live below the poverty line. She then intersperses her life story with the stories of five young men, including her younger brother, who died between 2000 and 2004. As she tells their stories, Ward explores the extent to which their deaths were caused by the entrenched gender and race roles of the region, and by the histories of their families in which Black men die young and the women work too hard and take care of their families.

This is a moving, yet sad, story and Ward is a poetic and emotional writer. She is the one who got out of her community and yet she has not left it behind. She wants to tell its story and after living in California, Michigan and New York she now lives in Mississippi again. I was moved by this paragraph in which she describes the pressures on her community:

“My entire community suffered from a lack of trust: we didn’t trust society to provide the basics of a good education, safety, access to good jobs, fairness in the justice system. And even as we distrusted the society around us, the culture that cornered us and told us we were perpetually less, we distrusted each other. We did not trust out fathers to raise us, to provide for us. Because we trusted nothing, we endeavored to protect ourselves, boys becoming misogynistic and violent, girls turning duplicitous, all of us hopeless. Some of us turned sour from the pressure, let it erode our sense of self until we hated what we saw, without and within. And to blunt it all, some of us turned to drugs.” (p. 169)

Ward teaches at the University of South Alabama and has written two novels. I look forward to exploring her fictions, which I have not read yet.

I borrowed this book from a friend.





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