Title: The Taste of Salt
Author: Martha Southgate
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“Josie Henderson loves the water and is fulfilled by her position as the only senior-level black scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In building this impressive life for herself, she has tried to shed the one thing she cannot: her family back in landlocked Cleveland. Her adored brother, Tick, was her childhood ally as they watched their drinking father push away all the love that his wife and children were trying to give him. Now Tick himself has been coming apart and demands to be heard.
Weaving four voices into a beautiful tapestry, Southgate charts the lives of the Hendersons from the parents’ first charmed meeting to Josie’s realization that the ways of the human heart are more complex than anything seen under a microscope.”
Thoughts: The Taste of Salt is one of those novels that requires time to sit and stew on what was just read. The power of the novel only comes after the reader has had time to reflect. While it could be construed as depressingly realistic in its portrayal of family and addiction, there is an underlying beauty that rises to the top after time.
The name of the novel itself is a subtle hint to the pleasures and pain that await the reader. Salt itself can be delicious and necessary for life. At the same time, too much of it can be deadly. Salt, in this instance, can symbolize anything that is simultaneously good and bad for you – family, love, booze. In this instance, Josie’s own love of the ocean is both a hindrance and a boon for her. She uses her position to keep her distance from her estranged father and her beloved brother as he spirals downward. Yet, she also uses it to maintain a tremendous chip on her shoulder about her position as a lone black female in a white male-dominated field. This chip also impacts her relationship with her family and with her husband and prevents the reader from completely sympathizing with her.
No one in The Taste of Salt is completely without guilt at the eventual outcomes of certain plot points. Therein lies the strength of the novel, as it forces the reader to question his or her own relationships and biases that one carries and that impact those relationships. Ms. Southgate also shines a light on the messiness of family and how interdependent family members are on one another. One simple hurt can impact familial relationships forever. It is a stark reminder that family is all that one has in the end and that no matter how far one runs away from them, that link always exists.
The Taste of Salt is a deceptively simple novel that stays with the reader for a long time after finishing it. None of the characters are truly likable, but all readers can relate to Josie’s struggle to find her place in her field and balance her need for her family with her disgust for what has occurred. Ms. Southgate captures brilliantly the lack of absolutes that surrounds familial love and guilt. The Taste of Salt is a must-read for those who are interested in a thoughtful novel about family and love.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to GLiBA for my copy!