The Music of Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Book Review

For me, lyrical writing speaks directly to my DNA. When done well, the music and rhythm of it calls to the ancestors I carry with me. It’s music, poetry, story, and lesson all in one. It feels the same as stories and songs shared around a fire. History passed down. Not everyone can achieve this ancient call with their words on a page. Some writing is referred to as lyrical because someone learned a technique, just as some people write haiku by knowing how many syllables there are each line, but it doesn’t sway or flow. Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward is music.

I picked this book up at the Northshire Bookstore the night before I was supposed to attend the Amherst College Litfest at the end of February. Jesmyn Ward was the keynote speaker. I woke up the cold, snow covered morning of February 29th with a migraine. I figured out the latest I needed to leave to drive the 2 hours to be there in time to see Jesmyn and tried all my tricks to quell the headache but couldn’t get it under control. I was so disappointed. From what I heard, she was wonderful. Within a week, reports of the first COVID cases were in my area. Her book was the last non-food or gas purchase I’ve made in person.

Sing, Unburied, Sing ties together the natural world, the unnatural world, family, history, race, death, a road trip, and secrets. There is so much to sink your teeth into. Ward has brought the theme of haunting in all its forms. Not just the spectral kind, but the hauntings carried within the characters by their actions and choices, by the actions of others, to addiction, to not feeling like you fit into your world, to carrying forward a history of racism.

The lyrical expression of this book makes it fly even with so much weight to the story. Ward creates a world you not only see but smell and taste. Like Richies’ description of cancer-riddled Mam as the “saltwater woman.” I’m a reader who loves to lose themselves inside of a world, and I was with the characters of this book.

I try to think of who won’t like a book when I read it. However, anyone I would list here would sound too judgmental on my part. So I would say anyone should read it. Ward has offered a little something for everyone.

Have you read this or other books by Jesmyn Ward? What did you think? Do you have any book recommendations for me? What are your thoughts on lyrical writing?

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