Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Taste of Salt - Martha Southgate

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate
I actually meant to review this one last year but didn't get around to it. This review is coming mainly from memory so bear with me. Josie was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, though she was far from any large bodies of water she fall in love with it and made a career out of it. Josie is the only Black senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In this way The Taste of Salt reminded me of Intuitionist by Whitehead. The novels are stylistically very different, however both feature a Black female protagonist in workforce positions that are predominantly held by men.

Since Josie is telling this story and because of much of who she is is defined by her chosen field, everything has a straightforward scientific analytical feel though the author is still able to give it a nice literary rhythm.

"I'm a scientist. I like to get to the bottom of things, to state the working hypothesis quickly. Narrative is not my specialty. But when I stop to think about it, in some ways, telling a story is like science. Trying to understand how a system works, what makes it function or not function, that's part of what a story does. Nothing is unrelated to the things that came before it. it's true of evolution and it's true of a family."

The quiet life Josie has carefully built is tested when her brother Tick is released from rehab for the second time. Josie must return to her childhood home in Cleveland, a place she rarely visits because of all the bad memories. The families experience with addiction began with the father. Josie shares her story, from marriage to growing up in a house with an unpredictable alcoholic father. She also gives the reader insight into the early years of her parents courtship and marriage. The latter I believe is the scientist in Josie, trying to pinpoint that one moment or event that would change the course of her parents lives and her own in the process. The city of Cleveland is an essential part of the story as well, it's describe and visualized with purpose from its years of promise to the lean ones.

Southgate skillfully explores how addiction can destroy a families dynamic. What stood out for me most was the strength and pain of Josie's voice. Taste of Salt had a quiet beauty that I loved and a rhythm worth getting lost in.

An excerpt

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