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The Taste of Salt
Cover of The Taste of Salt
The Taste of Salt
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Award-winning novelist Martha Southgate (who, in the words of Julia Glass, "can write fat and hot, then lush and tender, then just plain truthful and burning with heart") now tells the story of a family pushed to its limits by addiction over the course of two generations.
Josie Henderson loves the water and is fulfilled by her position as the only senior-level black scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In building this impressive life for herself, she has tried to shed the one thing she cannot: her family back in landlocked Cleveland. Her adored brother, Tick, was her childhood ally as they watched their drinking father push away all the love that his wife and children were trying to give him. Now Tick himself has been coming apart and demands to be heard.
Weaving four voices into a beautiful tapestry, Southgate charts the lives of the Hendersons from the parents' first charmed meeting to Josie's realization that the ways of the human heart are more complex than anything seen under a microscope.
Award-winning novelist Martha Southgate (who, in the words of Julia Glass, "can write fat and hot, then lush and tender, then just plain truthful and burning with heart") now tells the story of a family pushed to its limits by addiction over the course of two generations.
Josie Henderson loves the water and is fulfilled by her position as the only senior-level black scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. In building this impressive life for herself, she has tried to shed the one thing she cannot: her family back in landlocked Cleveland. Her adored brother, Tick, was her childhood ally as they watched their drinking father push away all the love that his wife and children were trying to give him. Now Tick himself has been coming apart and demands to be heard.
Weaving four voices into a beautiful tapestry, Southgate charts the lives of the Hendersons from the parents' first charmed meeting to Josie's realization that the ways of the human heart are more complex than anything seen under a microscope.
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About the Author-
  • Martha Southgate has been an editor at Essence, a reporter for Premiere and the New York Daily News, and a contributor to the New York Times. A graduate of Smith College, she has an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. Author of two acclaimed novels, The Fall of Rome and Third Girl from the Left, she has taught at Brooklyn College and the New School and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children. Find her online at marthasouthgate.com.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    July 25, 2011
    In her haunting fourth novel, Southgate (Third Girl from the Left) examines the complicated issues of race, family, love, and addiction. Josie Henderson is a widely respected scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts and prides herself on being the only senior-level African-American marine biologist there. Henderson loves her job and has a husband, Daniel, who adores her, but she can't shake her past of growing up with an alcoholic father. The story spins out, told through Josie's eyes and those of her brother, Tick, father, mother and husband after Josie goes back to her hometown of Cleveland to pick Tick up from his second stint in rehab. Southgate's arresting, fluid prose and authentic dialogue come together in a resonating study of relationships, where selfish tendencies among the various characters are revealed, as are their feelings of regret. A fascinating story that shows how the mistakes people make affect all those around them.

  • Kirkus

    July 15, 2011

    A master at portraying the hurdles faced by upwardly mobile African-Americans, Southgate (Third Girl from the Left, 2005, etc.) focuses her third novel on a marine biologist trying to escape her heritage.

    Growing up in black working-class Cleveland, Josie and her younger brother Tick were raised to excel by their parents, a nurse and a factory worker with a highly sophisticated love of literature. Both kids received scholarships to attend private school, but by the time Josie began to study marine biology at Stanford, her father's quiet alcoholism had destroyed her parents' marriage. Although he's been sober for years, Josie has never forgiven him. Now in her late 30s, she is wrapped up in her seemingly perfect life researching marine mammals at Woods Hole, where she lives with her gentle, loving scientist husband Daniel. When her mother asks her to return briefly to Cleveland to bring Tick home from the rehab center where he's been in treatment, Josie obliges. But she avoids becoming involved in her brother's recovery. Despite a dream job as a trainer for the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tick fell prey to alcohol and cocaine addiction. His wife has given up and left him, but now that he's clean again, the Cavaliers offer him a second chance. He moves in with his mother and begins to attend AA meetings. Back in Massachusetts, Josie walls herself off from her feelings for Tick and her parents, and also Daniel, who can't help being white or loving Josie more than she allows herself to love him. Instead she falls into an affair with newly arrived researcher Ben, who happens to be the only other African-American at the lab. Then Tick turns up at her doorstep in desperate need. Declaring the novel is Josie's narration, Southgate uses some creaky machinations to allow other points of view.

    Thoughtful if small in scale, the drama's ambivalences and ambiguities remain almost too low-key to build readers' interest before the tragic if unsurprising climax.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2011

    Southgate follows her two critically acclaimed novels, The Fall of Rome and Third Girl from the Left, with a novel featuring African American oceanographer Josie Henderson, who resides in Massachusetts with her white husband. Her decision to live and work near the ocean, away from her hometown of Cleveland, was prompted, almost without her being aware, by the alcoholism of her father and younger brother, Tick; she had longed for an escape. When Tick shows up expectantly at her door, Josie is suddenly confronted with her past and her own romantic addictions. Writing largely from the perspective of her protagonist, Southgate does a wonderful job of telling Josie's story, touching on racism, sexism, alcoholism, and emotional infidelity in a story that is intriguing if not entirely unpredictable. In fact, the novel is strongest when it most recalls an actual memoir. VERDICT A good, attention-grabbing read reminiscent of James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, this work will appeal to readers of African American literature.--Ashanti White, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    August 1, 2011
    As a senior marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute happily married to a like-minded scientist, Josie Henderson is mostly content. Being able to keep her family at arm's length, however, is a feat she's unable to accomplish. Given her mother's failing health and her little brother's problems with addiction, Josie knows that the comfort of her independent life is in constant jeopardy. After the brother shows up on her doorstep, Josie is forced to confront the family legacy of addiction and subsequent heartbreak. Using three other family members to help narrate Josie's story, Southgate proves to be an adept and versatile writer. In Southgate's hands, the delicate issues of addiction, racial identity, and infidelity are treated gently and never milked for unnecessary melodrama. With a lyrical style and obvious respect for her craft, Southgate has composed a compassionate, complex, and concentrated novel, tenderly powerful, that explores family bonds that last long after the family is dispersed.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

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