Salvage the Bones

Salvage the Bones


It’s been nearly 11 years since one of the most intense and disastrous of hurricanes struck the Southern United States, after hurricane Camille wreaked havoc along the Mississippi River the summer of ‘69. Nearly 11 years ago, Katrina collected herself and prepared her escape from the Bahamas, gaining momentum in Florida, with damaging winds escalating from a 3 to a 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale — ultimately striking deep into the the Gulf of Mexico to show the Southern population of 2005, what Hell looked like.

In Jesmyn Ward’s, Salvage the Bones, Hell, we find, is the wrath of women and they all have different names. From Camille to Katrina, Eurydice to Medea, and China to just plain Mama; all are present symbols of a vulnerable, yet savage, nature for survival reflected in both classic Greek Mythology, and within the main characters own reality. “China is bloody-mouthed and bright-eyed as Medea. If she could speak, this is what I would ask her: Is this what motherhood is?” With such a wrath, it is unsurprising, though not fully reputable to know, hurricanes with female names are considered deadlier, in some cases, due to lack of seriousness attributed to the severity — thus ill prepared and taken by death.* This is also acknowledged within the text, “The storm, it has a name now. Like the worst, she’s a woman. Katrina.” But let’s not forget the myth of Medea and how she chopped up her own brother and threw him into the ocean for her father to find BEFORE she killed her own children to punish her husband.* ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Dirtbag Medea


Salvage of the Bones, was published in 2011 by Bloomsbury and is Ward’s second novel. In the book, Ward reflects on her own experiences as a hurricane Katrina survivor through the perspective of the protagonist, a pregnant and motherless 15 year old teenager named Esch, living in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, Mississippi. Surrounded by brothers and a half present, but fully drunken father, Esch tries to understand what it means to love and what it means to be a mother—after her own mother was taken away from her by birthing her last son. Esch learns about both through the mythology she reads in school and by witnessing the savage nature of the family Pit bull, China, and the vicious relationship she has with her own puppies. Then, of course, there's the hurricane itself.



From the initial design, to the touch of it, this cover is rough. The book itself though, won the National Book Award for fiction in 2011, which is all the more reason for it to have a better cover. This isn’t a YA book, however the cover is CHILDISH, like a book your mom probably tried desperately to get you to read as a young teen because, hey, there’s a dog on the cover, and that dog looks happy—until you find that it isn’t. "My stomach and my shirt, bunched together, feel like a pillow wedged in my lap. I wish I could pull it out. My eyes burn. Inside my chest, a machete swings, back and forth, up and down, breaking the living, clearing a pulpy path behind it where green things lie, leaking. My face is wet against my leg. I stay like that until it stops, until the toilet stops ticking, the door creaks open, and the machete pauses, smelling of sap and metal." That green is a bit off, no?

The cover was designed by Patti Ratchford, who has designed a bunch of covers, the latest and most recognizable being, Field Notes from a Catastrophe (illustrated by Eric Nyquist). Above, you’ll see the differences in her covers with the addition of the National Book Award Winner label, and how it made the cover better with less tension in the spacing. In the original, the typography is strained, with ‘the’ sandwiched between ‘salvage’ and ‘bones’ while you just imagine how tired ’salvage‘ must be for trying to hold the majority of itself up, trying not to run into the dog. Sure, the cover most likely isn’t supposed to be clean, for it’s probably intended to be rough like the poverty stricken neighborhood in which they live—but that’s a stretch, as you can easily have both once a few of the extra typefaces get washed away and things get shifted around.

As for the subject matter, there is a slight sense of mystery left, wondering what symbolic meaning the dog will bring to the story to justify its main presence on the cover of a book about hurricane Katrina—to which you’ll probably guess nothing, and walk past. How boring. This book is filled with poetic visual language and similes, which are sometimes used too liberally, along with references to mythology, adventure, and treachery—all of which is stifled by the cover. This isn’t to say the cover should be a tell all, but some something that hints to multiple levels of the story, adding both movement like a new myth of a violent hurricane, along with the staleness of an old small house, cracking in the summer heat.



Display Type: Archetype (+Italic), Commercial Script, Trade Gothic Extended, Akzidenz-Grotesk
Body Type: Monotype Imprint

The cover typography is savage in its own right. The designer used a subtle frankenstein approach to the type—in this case, swapping between regular, italic and bold within each word. The title was written using a combination of the corroding Archetype regular and italic, with ‘he’ from ‘the’ swapped out with Commercial script. HE. He. he. is subtle and random. The author is also written in Archetype, and for the new edition, Trade Gothic Extended and Akzidenz-Grotesk to bookend the cover. 

Opening the book itself, you’ll find it traditional. This one’s nicely set using Monotype Imprint, a commonly used book typeface, with a larger x-height, similar in form to that of the beautiful Caslon. The typeface was originally cut for a short lived magazine for the printing trade in 1912, called The Imprint. In Salvage the Bones, Imprint is carried throughout the book, and is used for the running heads, pagination, chapter titles and drop caps. The entire book is split up into 12 days, from the casualness of prepping for yet another small hurricane, to the day in which they knew they had survived one of the most treacherous—with little to no change in the design over the course of it, not even where the cap drops.

The body type was easier to assess than the combination of type used for the cover. The main features that helped separate Imprint from that of a Caslon and other 18th century types, was the extended droop of the ear in the lowercase ‘g’, the serif-less finial of the capital ‘C’ and the abrupt ending to the angular tail of the capital ‘Q’.


Production Details: Exterior

Author: Jesmyn Ward
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Typeset By: Westchester Book Group
Cover Art Design: Patti Ratchford
Paperback ISBN: 987–1–60819–626–5
Typography: Title: Archtype + Commercial Script / Author: Archtype / Subtitle: Akzidenz-Grotesk / Award: Trade Gothic Extended

Production Details: Interior

Text/display typeface: Monotype Imprint
Main text size/Leading: 11/14pt Monotype Imprint, left justified
Section/chapter titles: 12/14pt Monotype Imprint
Drop caps: 27pt Monotype Imprint
Running heads: 8pt Monotype Imprint
Lines per page: 33
Average characters per line: 63
Pages: Trimmed size: 5.5 x 8.25 inches
Margins: Gutter (inner margin): 9/16", Outside: 7/8", Top (trim to baseline): 7/8", Bottom (trim to baseline): 1 1/8"
Spine: 3/4"
Order: Opening Contents: Quotes (recto and verso), Praise (recto to following verso), half title (recto), Previous works (verso), title page (recto), Copyright page (verso), Dedication (recto), Insp. quotes (recto). 
Closing Contents: Acknowledgements (recto), Author note (recto), Author Q&A (recto), Reading group guide (recto), Note on the Author (recto).



My (quick) Cover Redesign

For my quick cover redesign, I stuck with the idea of keeping China on the cover, for she is seen within the hurricane itself, but altered the setting and style in which she is placed. I wanted the cover to be as classic as the story, for there are frequent mentions of Greek mythology and early mentions of the classic literature written by Faulkner, specifically, As I Lay Dying. I went with Caslon for the type, as it appears much stronger than a weak and corrosive Archtype used for the existing cover. The illustration itself was inspired by Greek pottery depicting both myths and scenes from everyday life, such as the work created by Duris. The quick cover is decorative, but also an expression of a scene (which I stripped down so just China remains) representative of immense strength and the will to survive. The colors were inspired by the richest greens of a pine tree and red brown mud of the rising water that takes on a form of its own, ‘like a wide-nosed snake’. 

* The article also compares the name “Priscilla” to “Bruno” saying bruno sounds more intimidating, but IDK about that, I definitely think Natasha Khan could obliterate Bruno Mars just by looking at him.

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