On Proprioception, the Sixth Sense of Storytelling

Daniel Torday at The Millions:

Proprioception, the sense of where we are in space, can do more than simply bring character into focus—it also grants a kind of topicality when employed effectively. In the opening scene of Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bonesthough our main characters don’t know yet the havoc it will wreak, Hurricane Katrina is bearing down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where they languidly prep for the storm. The novel’s 15-year-old narrator, Esch, watches as her brother Skeetah works to help his pit bull, China, whelp a litter of pups. Ward is an unparalleled sentence-level writer, and the turns of phrase in these opening pages tune up our senses: Esch sees her father “through the window of the shed, his face shining like the flash of fish under water when the sun hit.” China’s whelping evokes in Esch the memory of her younger brother Junior’s birth when he “came out purple and blue as a hydrangea: Mama’s last flower.” The similes do immense work to bring memory—to bring the past—onto the page through visual imagery. But Ward is also masterful with her sense of place, and where Esch is in the world. This begins narrowly, as she tracks Esch’s relation to China and her puppies. Skeetah shakes her quickly from her reverie about Junior’s birth, saying, “Get out the doorway.”

more here.