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“Where the Line Bleeds”

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Pages
Nov 7th, 2022

by Jesmyn Ward

Christophe and Joshua, fraternal twins, have just graduated high school. Raised by their maternal grandmother Ma-mee, the boys have never known life not by each other’s side. Faced with meager job opportunities and low-wage realities, the twins’ dynamic is complicated by one receiving a coveted job offer at the docks. Life is changing, leading the boys on different paths. Where one takes on back-breaking, but honest work, the other resorts to selling drugs to make up for the lack of child support checks from the boys’ mother. Ma-mee is the emotional constant in the young men’s lives, the one who nurtures and believes in them, bearing the burden of raising her daughter’s children while their mother pursues her own career outside of Bois Sauvage, the poor black town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. When their mother returns for a visit and their drug-addicted father resurfaces, the boys must navigate strained relationships while their own paths diverge. 

What Jesmyn Ward does so well is to give voice to those stories often unwritten. She writes about the world she knows, the people she relates to, the families that must endure poverty, racism, and a world that thinks of them as Other. Ward doesn’t apologize for her characters or judge them for their choices. She simply writes life as it so often happens to them in a place where prosperity is an unimagined reality. Her keen attention to human emotion and close familial relationships grips readers, as we all crave connection and often find it in the unlikeliest of places. Ward’s writing is backdropped by the beating heart of the landscape, an ode of sorts to the Gulf Coast, a place Ward admits she both loves and hates. The themes of home, love, and brotherhood are explored in this story, alongside the complicated decisions people make when presented with so few options. 

Jesmyn Ward’s first novel did not receive the critical acclaim of her later novels like Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing, but here readers find the roots of her characters who embody black life in the Gulf South, characters fashioned in the likeness of the people from her childhood. While this novel is fictional, Ward’s biography Men We Reaped tells the story of her upbringing and six young black men in her life who died in a span of only four years. Ward won The National Book Award for fiction for Salvage the Bones in 2011, and has received critical acclaim as a distinguished voice in southern literature.