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Literary Glance: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

January 23, 2018

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward has one of the most memorable scenes I’ve read in a long time.  It’s memorable in an uncomfortable way, like the worship scene in American Gods by Neil Gaiman, the pie-eating contest in “The Body” by Stephen King, or the dentist scene in Marathon Man by William Goldman.

I don’t know how much of Sing, Unburied, Sing I’ll remember after I’m done reading it.  I forget about most books that I read.  I enjoy reading, even if I don’t finish everything.  Even when I don’t remember many of the details of a book after I’ve read it, I still enjoyed the process.  I think I read so much that the details from new books push out the details from the old books.  That’s not necessarily bad.  That means I can reread the books that I liked the most and they seem new the second (or third) time.

The same thing happens to me with movies and TV shows, so it’s not a reading issue.  It’s a priority issue.  I remember to pay the bills.  I remember most birthdays.  I remember what day of the week it is.  I’m pretty good at ignoring clocks and then randomly guessing what the time is.  So I think my mind is working okay.  I just don’t always remember many details from the books I’ve read.

I’m pretty sure I’ll remember this scene from Sing, Unburied, Sing.  The narrator is a kid helping his grandfather skin and gut a goat while they talk.  I won’t put all the details here (because I’m not that kind of a blogger):

Pop and I enter the shed.  Pop ties the goat to a post he’s driven into the floor, and it barks at him.

“Who you know got all they animals out in the open?” Pop says.  And Pop is right.  Nobody in Bois has their animals out in the open in fields, or in front of their property.

The goat shakes its head from side to side, pulls back.  Tries to shrug the rope.  Pop straddles it, puts his arm under the jaw.

“The big Joseph,” I say.  I want to look out the shed when I say it, over my shoulder at the cold, bright green day, but I make myself stare at Pop, at the goat with its neck being raised to die.  Pop snorts.  I hadn’t wanted to say his name.  Big Joseph is my White grandpa, Pop my Black one.  I’ve lived with Pop since I was born; I’ve seen my White Grandpa twice.  Big Joseph is round and tall and looks nothing like Pop.  He don’t even look like Michael, my father, who is lean and smudged with tattoos.  He picked them up like souvenirs from wannabe artists in Bois and on the water when he worked offshore and in prison.

After that, things get really bad for the goat.  And I imagine the characters in the novel will struggle a little bit too.    This is literature, after all.  If this scene doesn’t seem that impressive, I’ve left the memorable part out.  Some people don’t like to read that kind of thing, so I don’t want to surprise them.  This is usually a family-friendly blog.

I haven’t read much further into Sing, Unburied, Sing yet (that’s why this is called a Literary Glance).  I don’t know how the rest of the book goes.  But no matter what happens in this novel, no matter how the author builds up the story and wraps everything up, I’ll always remember the goat skinning scene.


What do you think?  Am I the only one who forgets the details of most books?  What scenes from novels do you find memorable?


  1. thechronicchickie permalink

    I thought I was the only one that forgot the content of books read and movies watched. My husband and mom thought I was odd about that. I am a prolific reader and if I kept that info I would not be ble to remember really important things I think. I treat it like info in, garbage out although most books and movies I read and watch are not garbage. My husband watches movies in snippets. He likes to watch only his favorite parts which I think is odd but who am I to say what is odd. Love your blog by the way.

    • “I treat it like info in, garbage out although most books and movies I read and watch are not garbage.”-

      I think that’s a good way to put it. I also watch movies in snippets (but it doesn’t help me to remember them afterward).

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