Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.
There’s likely not much that I could say about Sing, Unburied, Sing that hasn’t already been eloquently said by others. Jesmyn Ward’s elegiac and lyrical novel sings back and forth across narrators, across time, across the blood- and history-soaked soil of Mississippi. It’s beautiful, and sad on a bone-deep level.
My experience with this novel was influenced heavily by listening to the audiobook narration of it. The performers who voiced Richie and Leonie and JoJo did phenomenal work with a great degree of range and emotion. Finding the words to even describe the final chapters of this novel is difficult.
Maybe I’m writing this review too soon, the evening after finishing the novel. The imagery of the novel still feels like it’s too fresh and too raw. I honestly feel like whatever I say about it will be off, as if I’m hitting the keys of a piano forever tuned slightly sharp or flat.
I doubt this is a novel for everyone, even though it’s the kind that I would wish to be. (I genuinely hope this becomes a classic that’s taught in school. There’s so many layers to it.) The prose is fluid and descriptive, with frequent diversions into metaphor or simile. The plot rolls like a boulder down a hill, gradually gaining speed from a slow but vivid start and into a haunting conclusion. I found it all masterful in Jesmyn Ward’s hands, but I also was grieving (and still am) when I began reading it. The poetic, raw depictions of her characters’ emotional states and her strong development of the novel’s setting rang clear and true for me. Really, all of felt so true, even – or especially – in regard to the ghosts and spiritual elements.
As for content warnings, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Maybe with the fact that since this novel grapples with the past and present realities of racism in the United States, there’s race-based violence, slurs, descriptions of murder, and countless other horrors. There’s also parental neglect and abuse, imprisonment, drug use, vomiting, animal death, and lots and lots of grief. It’s heavy. I still highly recommend reading Sing, Unburied, Sing. It’s a hard but necessary read, and even if it’s not a novel you get warm, fuzzy feelings from, its heart beats achingly with truth and resonance.
It’s going to be in my thoughts for a long time.
It stays with me, a bruise in the memory that hurts when I touch it.