Literary Synchronicity: Jesmyn Ward and Domingo Martinez

My final wrap-up for the 52 (and counting) books I read this year is in the works, but before I unveil that let’s talk about synchronicity.

Literary synchronicity.

I read at least 2 books at a time: one hard copy, one digital.  Typically, my e-book is from the library and is something I put on hold months before, thus the books I end up reading at any given time are pretty random, usually selected months in advance.  (Ping me if you have tips on how to game the Chicago Public Library system.)

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Currently, the e-book I’m reading is the 2012 memoir, The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez, which was a National Book Award finalist in 2012.  It’s a spectacular glimpse at life in a poor Texas border town (Brownsville) chock full of unforgettable scenes depicting harsh poverty, brute violence, and poses unflinching questions about race, identity, class and American culture.

Last night I read a passage in BKOT about how the families in Martinez’s community would often pass babies from family to family.  As in, bartering human life.  Martinez writes, “[c]hildren here are a commodity slightly more precious than livestock.”  He calls it a “biological ‘regifting’ program” whereby unwanted babies born into indigent families that cannot feed another mouth are “exchanged” for something more valuable.  Thus, a childless couple might take another family’s little one and swap it for something the indigent family needs– a car, a cow, a bag of jewels, a gun.

Nothing I have ever read about poverty makes the point so clearly: the value of human life is inexorably degraded when you live on the fringes of subsistence.  If you’re starving and your community has gone to seed, then your babies have a different value than they do to someone with ample FMLA leave and full medical coverage.

I’m blessed that I have no idea what this is like.  (This is part of the privilege that I routinely take for granted.)  But this isn’t a political post (not overtly anyway).  This is about the weird shit that happens when you read too much.

So.  Less than 12 hours later, I’m on the bus reading Jesmyn Ward’s The Men We Reaped, her 2013 memoir of growing up in rural Mississippi and the four years in which she lost five young men beloved to her and her community.  Every fifth page is a punch in the gut as she links her personal story of struggle and loss to the systematic racism that finds its roots in slavery.

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Hard read, ya’ll, but pretty timely given the deplorable events of late.

Like Martinez, Ward writes how the children in her community “moved from family to family … through the decades: women in [her] great-grandmother’s generation would sometimes give newborn children to childless couples after having five or ten or fourteen, and when children were older, they would often move out of the family home and live with different relatives.”  Ward writes that “[h]ere, family has always been a mutable concept.”

Right now I can’t tell if I’m more shocked by the cultural, economic, and emotional circumstances that force desperate families to treat their children like milk cows or by the fact that despite having never read about this, I’m now reading about it in TWO books in less than 24 hours.

If you’ve ever read this blog, you should not be shocked that I am making this all about me.  Fatal flaw: self-absorption.

I’m not a superstitious woman, but I can’t help but think that somehow the universe is telling/showing/illuminating something for me.  I would like for you to read these two books and then we can have long, on-line discussions about them.

But wait, get this: This happened last week too!  Last week I was reading David Nicholls’ new novel, Us, wherein there’s a story line about a child named Jane who died.  Sad, right?  Poor Jane and her poor parents.   The same night I read about Nicholls’ Jane, I also pick up Laine Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret, which concerns the death of a young girl named, of course, J-A-N-I-E.  (Her given name was Jane.)

Are you kidding me? I haven’t (and will never) read the DaVinci Code, but was it like this? Clues littered through seemingly random literary choices?  Am I about to be murdered in the Louvre?  Am I supposed to be solving a mystery right now?

Could this synchronicity mean something? If so, what?

 

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8 thoughts on “Literary Synchronicity: Jesmyn Ward and Domingo Martinez

  1. It’s weird how that stuff happens. Like someone is speaking directly to you in an almost creepy, but indirect way. Adding those two to my “to read” list. Can’t wait to read your roundup. I *really* want to read Us. Good? Like you, I often have two books going though one is a novel and the other a short story collection (I’m addicted to them). Finishing Bark (stories) and newly into Mermaids in Paradise.

    • I LOVED US. One of the best reads of the year. The voice was so good and the plot structure was flawless. I didn’t particularly like his mega-selling first book, but this was very well done. I think the protagonist will stay with me for a long long time, which is saying something.

      On Thu, Dec 11, 2014 at 9:11 AM, Outlaw Mama wrote:

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  2. I always find signs in things like this, while feeling like I’m crazy but also totally believing in them. If this were my reading I would think it meant I was supposed to do something to help those living in poverty, or somehow help close the wealth gap etc. Good luck. 😉

    • Well, you’re right about that. I finished Ward’s book on the bus today and CRIED right there on public transportation. Time for some David Sedaris, though he strangely is sad sometimes even as he’s funny.

      On Fri, Dec 12, 2014 at 12:43 PM, Outlaw Mama wrote: > >

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