Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Review of "The Taste of Salt" [78]

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate
Algonquin, ISBN 9781565129252
September 13, 2011, 288 pages

The world she grew up in and the life she dreamt about, a dream she has now actually achieved, are quite different.

Josie Henderson, along with her brother Tick and her parents, her mom a nurse and her dad, an auto worker, lived in Cleveland, Ohio where Lake Erie was a poor substitute in Josie's mind for the sea. Josie and her brother were both very smart, winning scholarships to a private high school and then she went on to study marine biology at Stanford. Her home life was not quite as successful. They were a blue collar, middle class African American family, a family whose life has been fractured by addiction. Her father is an alcoholic, although long sober, and he and his wife divorced when Josie was a teenager and her brother has sadly followed in his footsteps, an alcoholic and addict who has lost his marriage and his career.

Now Josie is married, in her late 30's and a marine biologist working at the prestigious Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. And she is running as fast as she can from any connection to her family, which she fears will drag her down. She is running from her loving husband Daniel, carrying on an affair with the only other black scientist at Wood's Hole.
And it all comes to a head when Tick, once more fallen off the wagon and trying to turn his life around, shows up on his sister's doorstep, forcing Josie to confront the two parts of her life she has spent years trying to keep apart.

I must admit I read this book some time ago, weeks...months.
But I was at a bit of a loss as to what to write about it.
Bottom line, I wanted to like it more than I did.

On the plus side, I love the way Southgate writes, clean and direct. Her dialogue sounds so right, so true. And I though the story had great promise. The whole story of highs and lows of our family dynamics and how we all deal with our addictions. This successful black woman in a white male world, so fearful of how the 'secret' of her family would effect how others see her...
But there is the first problem, because I never believed for a minute that it would make much difference to most people, if they knew about her brother. There is a scene where she and her husband..that nice guy who loves her so much and she is screwing around on..and she is thinking if these people knew about her brother, the addict, it would somehow stereotype her, that black woman with the no good brother. And all I was thinking when I read it is that most likely everyone in that room would have the same issue in their own life, a daughter or father or parent with the same or similar issues. But she is so, so wrapped up in herself, she can't see that.
And we are to believe that she had such a terrible childhood, this life she must 'escape' from. Really? Yes, her father was a drunk, a quiet drunk, sitting in his chair, whose worse sin in her mind seems to be that when he was drinking he ignored her. She was not abused or neglected. They were not poor, she lacked for little. Private schools, a comfortable home to come back to every day, with food on the table...then Stanford..a dream job..oh yes, what a terrible life. Not!
No, I did not like Josie. I did not sympathize with her and I hated the way she treated her family. Her decision to cut herself off from them never felt justified.

On the other hand, I really liked her father. Yes, many years ago he was a drunk. His wife threw him out, he went to AA and except for one small fall has been sober for many years. He has overcome his own racial prejudices, has a steady relationship, uses his retirement time trying to help kids, has a good relationship with his ex-wife and tries to have one with his kids. Except his daughter will not answer the phone when she sees it is him. Oh, and did I mention he loves books and is a great reader? Well he is, while Josie does not read fiction.

I started to wonder if we were suppose to hate Josie! Really...does not read after growing up with that father who was always trying to pass on a great book to her? Gosh, I even felt more sympathy for her brother, the cocaine addict. Yes, there are many forms of addiction and Josie is in a way as much an addict as her father and brother and yet she is so totally unaware, so self righteous. Yes, if we are meant to dislike Josie, then the book succeeded. If not...and I think we are not meant to...well then the book ultimately failed for me.

But I do so love that cover!


  1. Everyone has been reading this book lately and there have been very different opinions. You are not alone in hating this character and not exactly loving the book, and I applaud you for speaking your mind! It is very hard for me to love a book when the main protagonist is an ass. Not impossible but it is tough for me.

  2. sounds like i wouldnt like her. but nice cover!

  3. Even without actually reading the book I have no sympathy for Josie .. I wonder what her friends and colleagues would think of her for cheating on her sweet loving husband .. likely a lot worse than they'd think of her brother or her family.

  4. Totally agree with every word of your post!

  5. Yeah, I'm not sure people would be all that worried about her brother either. I do like clean, direct writing, so I may give this one a try.

  6. What's interesting is that I often found I like books that people have disliked for some reasons. Maybe I'm weird so I'm going to give it a try!


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