Lyndsey Ellis’ Debut Novel, ‘Bone Broth,’ Explores St. Louis Through One Local Family
Lyndsey Ellis’ new novel, “Bone Broth,” isn’t just the story of a family. It’s also the story of St. Louis — with a half-century of history woven throughout its pages.
From the detonation of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex to the unmasking of the Veiled Prophet, from the death of Michael Brown to the protests at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the novel grapples with the city’s recent past and the ways its Black residents have been forced to make peace with its status quo, pay the price for fighting it or simply leave. By examining the lives of Gen-X siblings Raynah, Lois and Theo, along with matriarch Justine, “Bone Broth” explores activism, compromise, grief and the meaning of family.
On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, Ellis discussed the novel, which will be released by Hidden Timbers Books on June 1, and the research she did to get the historical moments it depicts just right.
For her, the book’s big theme is having to come face to face with who you are, the people you come from and the grief you carry.
“You can't run from who you are,” she said. “No matter where you go, right, you're always going to be you and you're always gonna have these things on you — whether it's memories or other things, you're just always going to be you.”
She added, “I do believe in some cases, people do have to move away to make away. I totally believe that.” But, she added, you can’t run from your past, as her characters learn throughout the book.
“All of them are running in their own way, whether it's physically or emotionally, psychologically, all of that,” she said. “The whole idea is unresolved grief and how you can't run from yourself. At some point in time, you have to face it and deal with who you are, and your role in this life.”
Born and raised in Florissant, Ellis earned her B.A. at Mizzou and spent 12 years in Oakland, earning her MFA from California College of Arts before returning to her hometown.
She said she started the novel in 2005, during her MFA years, but found her work on it was interrupted, sometimes for years.
“You know, it's not necessarily cheap out in California,” she said. “So I had to live and pay the bills while I was working on it. So yeah, I put it down a lot, but then I was determined to finish it. Whether I stayed there, moved here, wherever I went, I definitely knew I wanted to finish it.”
The novel changed even as it was overtaken by current events. Michael Brown’s death in 2014 helped shape the opening and fix the characters she’d long imagined at a particular point in the city’s history.
She said she can’t even describe how it feels to have the book published after all her years of work on it. “I'm sure any author who's had their work, and they've been toiling with it for a long time, and then to have it actually released and put out into the world — that's like, that's your baby.”
Ellis was previously featured on St. Louis on Air discussing her essay in the anthology “Black in the Middle.” She said she is now at work on a short story collection.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.