I wanted to read Martha Southgate’s The Taste of Salt as soon as I heard about it. Admittedly, the desire was pretty arbitrary at first: the beautiful cover caught my eye. Once I found out what the book is actually about, I couldn’t wait to read more. Luckily, the publisher sent me a copy so that I could participate in BOOK CLUB; the discussion is being hosted by all day today over at Devourer of Books.
The Taste of Salt explores the fragile nature of family bonds, especially when some members of the family are struggling to overcome alcohol and drug addiction. It’s narrated by Josie Henderson, the only black female marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. We first encounter her when she reluctantly travels home to pick up her brother, Tick, from his second stint at rehab. Up to this point, it appeared that her life had been running smoothly. She had fought for and earned the respect of her colleagues, her marriage appeared stable, and her relationship with her family was just where she wanted it: at comfortable distance several states away.
After Josie delivers Tick back to their mother’s house, everything starts to unravel. Her once-close relationship with her baby brother is now tenuous at best, her interactions with her mother are stilted at best, and her shaky relationship with her father, a recovering alcoholic who’s been on the wagon for years, remains forced. Back home at Woods Hole, Josie’s marriage also begins to fray once she realizes she has an addiction of her own to battle with; it turns her world–and her view of the world–upside down.
I liked this book–it’s an absorbing read, and I finished the vast majority of it in two sittings–but throughout my reading, I had a nagging feeling that something was missing. Though Josie is the narrator, the book is told from different points of view. I usually love books in that style, but with this one the style felt contrived. Though I could empathize with each character and especially enjoyed reading about the racism and sexism Josie constantly encountered in her field, ultimately, I felt like I never got to really know the characters.
The Taste of Salt isn’t perfect. That said, it is enjoyable, and I can think of a couple of people I could recommend it to who would love it. I like Southgate’s ideas and perspective. I just wish she’d pushed the character development even further.
The Taste of Salt was released on September 13, 2011 by Algonquin Books, an imprint of Workman Publishing.