I couldn’t help but notice the similarity to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in which a poor white Mississippi family has to transport mom’s dead body quite a distance in order to bury her. The tale is told by several 1st person narrators, including Mom (Abby) each with his own problems. Then I checked and the similarity to Sing Unburied Sing has NOT gone unremarked on by the critics and bloggers. (I appreciate when that happens as I feel vindicated in some way.)
Sing Unburied Sing
by Jesmyn West
2017 / 308 pages
read by Kevin Harrison/Chris Chalk and others
rating – 8.5 – contemporary fiction
But that’s certainly not all there is – Sing Unburied Sing has, as the title implies, ghosts hovering over the family. This is kind of reminiscent of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. But still, although it took me half the book to see it, there’s still more. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders comes to mind
The setting of the South, including a very present historical background, is very similar in the these books but the main family in Sing Unburied Sing is generally younger, black and definitely dealing with 21st century issues. Drugs and racial tensions are involved in addition to Some of the characters see ghosts or hear voices. Mom is dying of cancer, but it’s two younger women and their children who are traveling to pick up the white father of two of the children as he is released from a 3-year stay in prison.
The reader has to finish the book to realize what brought all this on, similar to Beloved, but it’s definitely worth it. That’s where it all comes together and where the real action is.
There are some intense scenes like the one with the police officer or the one where Michael brings his family to visit his parents. These are wonderfully well done – riveting. The powerful scenes toward the end seemed to be a bit more ambitious than West was quite able to pull off successfully.
Still, I think this is one of those books which I would have enjoyed more had I read it. The readers slowed the pace down and they used too much emotion, too much quiet drama and I don’t think it’s supposed to be a dramatic book. Rather there’s a sense of the melancholy to it which is powerful in itself, but lost in the narration.