National Book Awards: the 2011 fiction nominees

Five novels vie tonight for the 2011 National Book Award title,

3. 'Salvage the Bones,' by Jesmyn Ward

In Ward's devastating second novel, a 14-year-old girl living on Mississippi's Gulf Coast describes the 12 days leading up to hurricane Katrina. The Batistes live in “the Pit,” 15 acres overgrown with saw palmetto and pines and dotted with abandoned cars and wandering chickens. Narator Esch has read “As I Lay Dying,” and echoes of Faulkner's black comedy resonate throughout. Each family member has its own preoccupation: Their alcoholic father is trying to get the house ready for the storm. Middle brother Skeetah's beloved pit bull, China, has just given birth to her first litter, and he's obsessed with trying to keep the pups alive. Esch is pregnant and trying to figure out what to do. As the storm approaches, the Batiste family's story takes on the resonance of one of the Greek myths Esch has studied in class.

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