Recently I read two books that were hard to read for me… mainly because I am a softie when it comes to animals and these books challenged me to think of why I dislike when animals are hunted or harmed in gambling fights. Yet, I liked both of these books because I thought they both offered good stories, memorable characters and a lot to think about.
I finished Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward in mid April.
I was intrigued by this book because it won The 2011 National Book Award for Fiction and an Alex Award for 2012… and I have usually liked the books chosen for these awards in the past. I was not disappointed in the writing and I found the story compelling. What I did not realize is that this book would have dog fighting in it. It is a book about a family who lives in poverty in rural mississippi and chronicles the days before and after Hurricane Katrina hits.
Through the eyes of Esch, the 14 year old narrator, I was able to see the love the family had for each other, their friends, and their dog. It challenged me to understand why a boy who loved his dog would want to fight her. It challenged me to see Skeetah as more than just a monster who fights dogs. Although the main storyline revolves around the family’s struggles as a whole, I found that Skeetah, China (his dog), and the puppies was the one that kept me up at night and frustrated me to setting the book aside just so I could wrap my head around my feelings.
In the end, I decided to skim over the dog fighting part (even though some of my friends on Goodreads.com said it was well written and worth reading). It was hard enough to read up to that point and then read the aftermath. When all is said and done, I decided that I could see some humanity to Skeetah, but I still could not like him. I could like Big Henry though. Big Henry was the boy you wanted your daughter to marry. Kind, thoughtful, and so nice that Esch never thought of him more than just a friend… Isn’t that always how it goes for the nice guy?
I would usually pick up a lighter and less thought-provoking book after such a gut wrenching story, but my library thought differently. Sure enough,I received a notification from my library that The Snow Child, by Eowen Ivey, had come in and I had 14 days to finish it.
I crossed my fingers that maybe it would be a lighter read since it was inspired by a Russian Fairy Tale and the little girl on the cover looked sweet. In many ways, it was a less emotionally taxing story, but it still had its moments where I could not help but get emotionally involved with the characters plights. It starts out a bit bleak… Jack and Mabel are struggling and it looks like they will not be able to survive the harsh winter unless Jack takes on another job. Mabel and Jack’s marriage is already strained due to having a stillborn child and the stress of trying to start their homestead. Thankfully, some pretty amazing people enter their lives right at the darkest moment. They meet another farming family who shares what they have and tells them that they can survive on moose meat and potatoes. Of course, they have to shoot a moose first.
I get it. I really do. They live in the wilderness in Alaska. They need the meat to survive and moose are really big. Yet, here is the thing… I was pretty much raised in southern California growing up and so I really never was exposed to hunting or hunters in my real life. Sure, I knew they existed, but they were characters in a book or on a TV show. In fact, my first memory of hunting came from the story Where the Red Fern Grows and I really only remember the dogs dying and crying a lot. Years later, I still have a hard time with the whole hunting thing. I know it is necessary for some people to eat and to keep animal populations down, but I still have a hard time grasping the want to do it. Now, I am not against eating meat, because I do eat meat, but that does not stop me from crying if I happen to be behind a chicken truck. I know…I don’t make sense. So the descriptions of having to kill and clean the moose and the chickens made me glad that I was not in Mabel’s shoes.
My Line of Thinking Rarely Makes Sense
Reading these books back to back also made me wonder why I had such a hard time with Skeetah and not with Garrett and Jack, since in theory they both killed animals to survive. Skeetah needed the money from the dog fights, and the others hunted and trapped animals for food and pelts (in Garrett’s case to make money). Well, I have decided that it was the circumstances. I just hate Dog Fighting and the whole thought of it being something that is watched and maybe even enjoyed by the participants, just gets to me. You can say that hunters enjoy the sport of hunting too, and Garrett certainly seemed to enjoy the hunt, but it still seemed less cruel. The animals he killed were used for basic needs like food and warm clothing. The dogs that died may or may not have been mourned and their lives did not go on to serve a need for the community. They were used as a way to gain money, but really there are other options to earn money (although I do admit that the socially acceptable options available are probably few and far between). In Alaska, the options were even more slim and dangerous…even if they were more socially acceptable.
The Big Question: Would you rather be in an airplane crash in Alaska in the dead of winter or forced to fight in a death match (maybe Hunger Games style)?
These books challenged me to think about survival and how basic needs can make you want to or even need to make choices that are undesirable and hurtful to animals. My inability to accept that there is a positive to dog-fighting and hunting is due to the fact that I have never needed to resort on those options to survive. So I have figured out that I am not a survivor. Knowing this… I would want to be in the plane crash, either way I would probably be one of the first casualties. At least if the other survivors need to eat me to survive…I will have served a purpose.