"Bone Broth" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
Lindsey Ellis’ explosive, intergenerational novel “Bone Broth” takes place during the 2014 Ferguson unrest when Michael Brown was shot by a White police officer. The book uncovers social and family issues affecting a Black family in this troublous time.
Justine and Wesley Holmes had moved to suburban Ferguson to escape the crime and drug-infested Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in the city of St. Louis. When the book opens, decades have passed, Wesley has died, and their once desirable neighborhood has deteriorated. Justine resents the gradual decline of Ferguson as well as the destructive protests that erupted after Michael Brown was killed. The neighborhood changes are a painful reminder of her loss of the idealism she held when the family moved to the suburbs.
Justine's unrealistic belief that any community can maintain high standards of behavior, honesty, and equity has been passed along to her eldest daughter, Raynah, a spitfire social activist now living in Oakland, California. Raynah is the heir to her father's house in Ferguson that she decides to remodel into a social justice museum.
As her efforts to develop the museum proceed, Raynah uncovers her mother's murky past. She had participated in anti-racist movements during her young years, but Justine’s most tightly held secret involved her mother being a “funeral thief.” This meant she would frequent funeral homes and steal rings and other pieces of jewelry from the corpses when no one was looking.
As Raynah tries to gather more information about her mother, tension develops between the two women and confounds their relationship. Justine finds it difficult to admit her unseemly, criminal actions; the more she tries to make peace with her past, the more painful memories are uncovered.
Raynah’s sister Lois, a real estate agent, is dealing with the return to town of Ahmad, her childhood crush, and the father of her son Quentin, who was murdered in the crossfire of a drug bust. Theo, their brother is a public servant dealing with recollections of violence and lost love. He is gay and tries to hide his sexual orientation.
All these family issues become heightened as the story evolves so that even Justine's famous bone broth cannot heal all the familial wounds.
Ellis paints a picture of what it takes for one Black family to endure in a challenging time of violence, protest and disillusionment. She deftly discloses the pain of holding onto, then letting go of long-held secrets, the pathos suffered by rejected lovers and the tragedy of lost freedoms.
The narrative cuts through the hurt and anguishes and also depicts some successes experienced by members of the Holmes family. Ellis is a talented young writer whose first novel points to a promising future.
About the author: Lindsey Ellis is a St. Louis-born fiction writer, essayist, and cultural critic who explores intergenerational struggles and resiliency in the Midwest. Hidden Timber Books is the publisher of this 274-page novel.