PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewPowers’s insightful, often poetic prose draws us at once more deeply toward the infinitude of the imagination and more vigorously toward the urgencies of the real and familiar stakes rattling our persons and our planet ... Regarding the inevitable forms of tragedy with which this book is intent upon grappling—that loved ones die, that progress has its limits, that as a species we fail more often than we succeed—Bewilderment invites us to ponder not only our dominance of the planet and the ways that the unjust power of a few dominates the lives of others. It also insists we ponder this: At what cost do we allow our capacities for fear, jealousy and appetite to trounce other equally intrinsic capacities, like empathy, courage and forbearance? What if our worst enemy is not barricading himself in the White House or pelting our children with taunts on the playground? What if it’s right here, lighting up neural pathways inside our own skulls? ... Two characters identified as Black play briefly but significantly into the narrative arc of Bewilderment. On the depth spectrum, I’d say they occupy spots somewhere between extras and archetypes; their choices help Powers trip the switch on certain narrative inevitabilities, but, by and large, the bewilderment of the novel’s title is played out in white bodies and minds and in spaces where whiteness can be taken for granted ... Perhaps there’s nothing surprising or unusual about that. Neither is there anything surprising or unusual about the kicking in of my readerly desire to bring my whole self, race included, to the pondering of this profound novel. I’ll admit there was a tiny pang in discovering that the Blackness of those two characters was planted in the narrative only to be almost immediately retreated from. As is often the case, my corrective capacity rushed in to try to assure me that the white imagination may be a better setting than many for an exploration of the abysmal ends of power ... What is the bigger scheme of things, and how do we get—and stay—there? If any writer is capable of invoking such scale, and allowing us to linger there awhile, it is surely Powers, whose capacity for world-envisioning offers rapt readers moment after moment of captivating recalibration. The possible—like the real—is enormous. Like other intelligent life in the universe, the possible is everywhere and nowhere, hiding in plain sight.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThere are many moments of tenderness between the siblings, and Ward takes her time with them, letting the writing become almost an act of choreography. This is where she seems to be teaching us to recognize that black bodies can do something other than suffer and inflict pain. They can minister to each other ... In Jesmyn Ward’s Mississippi, one must grow inured to the rituals of killing and butchering animals for sustenance. Exhausted women beat their children in public. Men of good character do unspeakable things out of necessity, and the bad men do far worse. And there, just as in the real world, caring about people like Jojo and Leonie is not a matter of looking past these grim possibilities, but rather consenting to step into them and be affected. Such feats of empathy are difficult, all too often impossible to muster in real life. But they feel genuinely inevitable when offered by a writer of such lyric imagination as Ward. Sing, Unburied, Sing is many things: a road novel, a slender epic of three generations and the ghosts that haunt them, and a portrait of what ordinary folk in dire circumstances cleave to as well as what they — and perhaps we all — are trying to outrun.
PositiveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewHow can a book so slim take on such mammoth considerations and manage them with such efficacy? Perhaps because we gain entry via one girl and, later, the woman she becomes. Perhaps because no matter how conscious Jefferson makes us of societal circumstances, what drives Negroland is an abiding commitment to the primacy of the individual.