Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson follows the story of a family whose lives have been affected by the pregnancy of 15-year-old Iris and birth of her daughter Melody. With a perspective shift each chapter and a narrative told out of chronological order, Woodson’s novel is less focused on plot than on character development, family dynamics, and capturing emotion. In a style that borders on poetic, Woodson’s writing is exquisite.
While it was interesting to read through the different experiences and see how Woodson molded each character’s voice, the constant shift in narration from one character to another had its downfalls. Mainly, it was difficult to feel connected to characters. What seemed like would be Melody’s story (with her proclamation in chapter one, “And as we dance, I am not Melody who is sixteen, I am not my parents’ once illegitimate daughter—I am a narrative, someone’s almost forgotten story. Remembered.”), quickly became her mother’s, Iris’, story. As a reader, we aren’t given enough time, however, with Iris to learn about her and love her despite her flaws. Instead, she reads as unlikable.
Nevertheless, the narration shift does allow the reader intimate flashes into characters’ psyches, rounding out the novel with a 360 understanding of relationships in all their complexities and subtleties.
The entire tone of the book is one of melancholy. There is suffering, pain, misfortune. While it’s important to highlight the trauma this family endures, the novel becomes difficult as it becomes clear there will be no relief. Hope does not arrive in the book until its very last page, and even then, it’s just a glimmer.
Still, what conquers all is Woodson’s voice. The repetition of certain motifs, particularly rising, the italicization of dialogue which nods to the fickleness of memory, and the isolation of each paragraph which forces you spend time with the text—all culminate in a book that is hard to break away from.
This week, my impossibly simple and delicious strawberry jam recipe is inspired both by the book’s title and one of the book’s secondary characters: Jamison, AKA Jam. Jam, despite her brief appearance, was one of my favorite characters in Red at the Bone. She was willful and challenged Iris. It’s only through Jam that we see some softness come through Iris, and I loved seeing their relationship develop.
And, of course, I chose strawberry jam over any other kind of jam for its vibrant red color, to pay homage to the title of Woodson’s stellar novel.
One-Jar, Three Ingredient Strawberry Jam
This strawberry jam is easy to make and only yields one pint!
Yield: 1 pint | Prep time: 1 hr & 5 min | Cook time: 30 min | Total time: about 1.5 hrs
- 2 lbs fresh strawberries
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice (you can also use the juice from half a lemon—however, it’s better to use lemon juice as the acidity will be consistent)
- 1 pint water
- Put a plate or spoon in the freezer. You’ll use this to test the readiness of your jam later.
- Using a spoon, hull and roughly slice strawberries into a large bowl.
- Mix in the sugar and make sure the strawberries are well coated. Allow strawberries to macerate for an hour on the counter top, stirring occasionally.
- Put enough water to fill your jar in a small pot on the stove. Don’t turn it on yet.
- Pour strawberries in a large pot over medium-high heat and bring to a roaring boil. STIR CONSTANTLY. Make sure all your affairs are in order because for the next 30 minutes you are not allowed to step away from this stove! Be sure you’re tending to the bottom of the pot to keep the jam from sticking & burning.
- About 15 minutes into cooking the jam, bring the pot of water to a boil. Once the water is boiling, pour it into your mason jar. This will bring the mason jar up to the same temperature as the jam for when you pour it in later.
- As the jam thickens, you can bring down the temperature a bit. You’ll know the jam is about ready when the foam can be stirred into the jam and doesn’t sit on top. Test the jam’s readiness by placing it on the frozen spoon/plate and drawing a line through it with your finger. If the line stays, it’s ready. If it runs together, it still needs to thicken.
- Pour jam into your jar. The jar is not fully processed, so you’ll have to store it in the refrigerator. However, it will keep up to 6 months.
- Enjoy! Strawberry jam pairs well with brie or cream cheese!