A Bittersweet Tale

The Taste of Salt

The Taste of Salt
Martha Southgate

I first became acquainted with Martha Southgate’s work through her article about The Help, I book which I totally loved (um, or not).  Her analysis and writing style really appealed to me, so when I got to the last line “Southgate’s fourth novel, The Taste of Salt, will be published in September,” I pre-ordered it.

I started reading it on the beach, without realizing that the main character, Josie, was a marine biologist with a deep love of the ocean. She describes diving with enough tantalizing detail that it makes me want to overcome my fears and give it a try:

“Rolling in backward and letting the water close over my head. The air coming from the oxygen tank on my back so that I was buoyed up and breathing even though there was water all around me. I would cut through it and the fish would swim up and hover around me like jewel-covered birds or butterflies over a field. I love breathing underwater but still being safe, held, protected. I love the weightlessness. I never feel that the rest of the time. Life weighs a ton. That’s why I love the water. Nothing weighs anything there.”

This passage encompasses the themes of the novel as a whole. Josie feels weighed down by life. She loves her family, but the pressure of the past, her father’s, then brother’s struggles with addiction, the stress of an interracial marriage, make her want to run far away. She was raised in Cleveland, far from the ocean. For a time she lived in Hawaii, although that period is just passingly referred to with longing for the clear blue Pacific water.

When we meet Josie, she’s living in a tiny town in Massachusetts. She and her husband work at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (a real place! I didn’t know that), which is in her husband’s small hometown.  It’s a nice enough place, but Josie feels cramped. Her husband wants kids – she doesn’t. She doesn’t want to be tied down in suburbia. 
When she realizes that her past follows her no matter where she goes, it’s time to face reality. She can no longer ignore the problems in her life, but she must meet them. When I finished the book, I was hopeful for Josie. I think she’ll still stumble a time or two, but I have faith that she’ll make it through.

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