Title: The Taste of Salt
Author: Martha Southgate
Release Date: September 13, 2011
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Josie Henderson is a marine biologist, and she’s worked hard to escape her landlocked past. Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio wasn’t horrible, but her father’s descent into alcoholism shadowed much of her childhood. Now, Josie’s done everything she can to get away and separate herself from her family, but when Josie’s brother, Tick, begins to follow the same path as his father, she’s forced to return home and confront her demons.
The Taste of Salt is a fascinating look at many different aspects of one woman’s life. Josie is a great main character. She’s flawed and makes more than one bad decision over the course of the novel, but she’s smart and endearing. Josie also happens to be African-American, and while that’s not crucial to the novel as a whole, there are some really insightful meditations on what it is to be a black woman in a white man’s profession. It’s really interesting (and sad) to see the way Josie is treated, and how she has to fight for respect because of the color of her skin and her gender.
But just as much as the novel is about Josie’s professional life, The Taste of Salt is the story of how one family is affected by alcoholism. Daniel, Josie’s father, has faced the bottle and come out stronger; he is sober now, though Josie’s relationship with him is understandably irreparable. What makes things harder, though, is that her wonderful, endearing little brother Tick is now facing the same struggle. Readers so badly want Tick to fight and win, for him to conquer his alcoholism once and for all, but real life is messy and there’s no guarantee that the ending will be a happy one.
It’s interesting to see how Josie has been damaged by her family’s struggles in The Taste of Salt. She has trouble keeping up relationships. Her husband, though a good man, is white, and therefore, Josie often feels he doesn’t understand her. She has such a longing to find a safe, comfortable place in this world, and it’s heartbreaking to see what she inadvertently destroys in order to find it. She takes shelter in messy relationships and the intensity of her work, trying to avoid having to face real life and confront the things that haunt her.
Martha Southgate tackles many interesting issues in The Taste of Salt, such as race, interracial marriage, discrimination, and alcoholism, and as a result, it would make a great book club pick. Josie’s a beautifully written, though damaged, main character that readers will want to discuss, as they hope she finds herself in a better place at the end of the novel. It’s a thoughtfully written novel that will have you clamoring for more from this talented author.