I may need to stop paying my electric bill periodically. Every few years, we experience a large enough storm to knock out my power for several hours (or days). During these hours, I find myself settling into a candlelit atmosphere and opening a new book. This year, I was fortunate enough to have a copy of Jesym Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing on hand.
The hype around this book was huge. Everyone was talking about it. It won the National Book Award, was nominated for a slew of other awards and made my to read list when it was long listed for the Morning News’s Tournament of Books. It was short listed long before my copy became available at the library , but such is the life of an avid library patron.
Sing, Unburied, Sing is a contemporary look at impoverished life in the southern United States. At it’s heart, it is a tale about a dysfunctional African American family struggling through life. Leonie is a drug-addicted mother living with her parent waiting to reunite with her children’s father. Jojo is a 13-year-old trying to find his place in the world; simultaneously being a child and raising his 3-year-old sister. Mam and Pop, Leonie’s parents have stories to tell as well. Ward weaves this story together through alternating points of view of Jojo and Leonie with the occasional assistance of a ghost named Richie.
The prose was absolutely lyrical. My own reading, in a mostly dark living room with the flickering candlelight may have helped make this ghost story even more haunting and emotional.
While the story takes us on a road trip through Mississippi, it is mostly a character-driven story. The history of all involved is spooned out quietly and revealed in beautiful, if heartbreaking ways.
This was not a long book (285 pages), but it had depth. My power was restored before I finished the book, but the haunted feelings remained. I have previously read Dr. Zhivago and Fall on Your Knees by candlelight and both have certainly remained in my good favor long after I closed the covers. Not to worry, I will continue to pay my bills, but maybe I will remember to unplug once in awhile and read a new book by candlelight.