BOOK CLUB – The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

Welcome to BOOK CLUB, which I run with co-conspirator Nicole from Linus’s Blanket. Today we will be chatting about The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate, which was released on September 27th by Algonquin Books (website | twitter | facebook). For those of you reading this post, please remember that this discussion is likely to contain spoilers.

Here is the synopsis of the book I wrote for my review:

Josie Henderson wants nothing more than to leave her family and the legacy of addiction behind her. She’s married now, a successful scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Still, though, she is terrified that if anyone at work new about her family she would go from being the only black female scientist to be the black girl whose daddy used to be a drunk and whose brother is in rehab. Life had been going more or less smoothly, but now her brother Tick’s release from rehab forces Josie to once again face her family. When a new scientist with a background similar to Josie’s own joins the staff at Woods Hole, it quickly becomes apparent that Josie’s carefully constructed life is simply a veneer, and that what is underneath is not as solid as she believes.

Before we get started, here are some of the reviews of readers who will be participating today:

1330v
Between the Covers

Caribou’s Mom
Cheap Black Pens
Devourer of Books
The Feminist Texan [Reads]
Linus’s Blanket
Rhapsody in Books
Savvy Verse & Wit

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page (please use the TOP subscription option, the second option will subscribe you only to replies of your own comments). I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.

Here we go…

  • First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • It is not always immediately apparent which family member is narrating a given chapter. What do you think Southgate’s purpose is in structuring her story like this, and do you think it worked well?
  • Josie feared that if people knew she was a black girl with an alcoholic brother they would judge her harshly. How did she let this influence her life?
  • Did Josie’s marriage ever have a chance? What were the problems they faced, and how might they have been overcome?
  • Do you think that Josie and Ray have hope of a real reconciliation at the end of the book? Why? What brought them to this place?
  • Did you have any other questions about the book that you hoped to get answered?
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99 comments to BOOK CLUB – The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

  • I kept waiting for Josie to get some insight into her own weaknesses so that she wouldn’t be so judgmental, but that never happened. I was disappointed.

    • I had such a different and sympathetic view of her. Still, I don’t know if I necessarily liked her. She definitely wasn’t warm, but she did her best. What did you think her weaknesses were and what did you want from her? I thought by the end, she had made some pretty big strides given how she had chosen to deal with everything else.

      • Well she was so critical of her father for throwing away his family in favor of alcohol, and yet she was ready to throw away her husband and marriage for Ben. I understand her desire to shut off the alcoholism out of her life, but I still think she could have had more compassion for them given that she too found an “addiction” she didn’t want to give up. I didn’t see her having any insights into that.

        • Is that really surprising, though? Having a father with a chemical addiction, she’s more likely to have an addictive personality herself, but she has repeatedly told herself that she “made it” and got away from all that. I think that if she’d been totally self-actualized about that I’d have been shocked and called the whole thing unrealistic. Plus, I think the Ben thing is as much about purposely pushing her husband away because she’s afraid of letting anyone get close to her, after how her father and brother have disappointed her, which would make sense as to why she got involved with someone right after Tick got out of rehab (not to mention the symbolism she must have seen in finding an African American man who was strong, and without chemical dependencies).

          • Very interesting insights into the Ben thing.

            • Lol, I’m such an external processor. I already had the “afraid of intimacy” thing while reading the book, but my thoughts about Ben’s specific relation to the timing with Tick and his simply being an alcoholism-free guy just came to me while I was in the middle of typing that to you.

              • I agree, Jen – she was all about putting up barriers to intimacy as a way to protect herself from being hurt by someone she loved. Unfortunately, all that did was drive away the people who loved her. I actually had a lot of empathy for Josie…I don’t think it is easy for children to grow up around substance abuse. She became the typical “perfectionistic” child of an alcoholic…striving for the top in her career, living a good life, etc…And yet she felt so hurt and damaged. Her desire to push away her father was firmly rooted in trying to hold onto that perfect image, I think.

                And the Ben thing – well, that was just self-destructive…but I also think it was her way of reconnecting with her culture.

              • I think she had also subconsciously put herself into an environment where she would always be reminded that she was the “other.” No matter her achievements, there would always be something about her that other people might see as less or different. It’s a way of punishing herself, because deep down she feels guilty about not being able to save or protect Tick or her father.

          • The main problem Josie had was admitting how much the addiction in her family had affected her. She thought she could just get away from it by moving away from home and starting a new life, but she wasn’t coming to grips with the fact that addiction affects everyone involved, sometimes physically, psychologically, emotionally, etc. She refused to join any kind of support group, such as AA, and I think she was afraid to because she knew it would tell her things about herself that she didn’t want to hear. Being so angry with her father and denying that she had any addiction issues of her own is a common response to this type of situation.

            • I SO wanted for her to get some support! Trying to go it alone really screwed up her life.

              • I did, too. I was frustrated and hurt for her at the same time.

              • And even if she never got any professional support, the fact that she couldn’t open up to anyone . . . such a lonely life.

              • But re support, she kept emphasizing how inadequate the 12-step groups were, and I would really really have to agree. But then her only other recourse was to tell someone. To tell a white person ran the fear of reinforcing stereotypes about black families, and to tell a black person ran the fear of I guess exactly what you all are saying happened with Ben (although I think I missed that he pulled away because of Tick et al. I thought he was just turned off by her clingy/possessiveness/demandingness.)

    • Jill, I agree, I was disappointed by the lack of character arc here for Josie. I wanted her to evolve more, to become less judgmental of others, but also to realize more of her own faults, though she does a little bit toward the end.

      I do agree that her relationship with Ben is directly related to her closed off nature, and how she shut herself off from affection after her brother and father had disappointed her and were unable to be strong without alcohol and/or drugs.

      I wonder about her support, because if you think about it, her mother did what she did — ran — she kicked out the husband and jumped into her own nursing/volunteering activities. How much was she really there for the kids. It really isn’t too clear on that point. Perhaps Josie was merely emulating the go-it-alone mentality of her mother, who also apparently didn’t go to those meetings.

  • Originally I found out about this book because the author just started working at my local bookstore, and once I read the description it seemed like something I might be interested in. I was unprepared for how much I would like it and how much I would sympathize with Josie. First, the feelings she has when she is falling for Ben were very similar to the way I felt a few years ago when I met a new person while in a 4 year relationship (though my situation turned out very differently as I am now engaged to that new person.) And then the feeling of wanting “nothing more than to leave her family and the legacy of addiction behind her.” I thought that the author did such an amazing job of describing that closed-off-ness that children of addicts often project and that feeling that as a child of an addict you have to always steel yourself for the worst possible thing to happen.

    • Do you get he feeling that Ben knew right away that he didn’t have strong feeling for her, or do you think it became more apparent as she started to unravel? I thought it was very telling when he asked her why she chose to share with him the story of her brother. Warning bells went off.

      • I never thought Ben was in love with Josie or even close…he had no desire for a long term relationship from the start…which is what made the whole thing so sad to me. She was throwing away her marriage to a good man for what?

        • I don’t know if he was in love with her, but I’m not totally convinced he didn’t think he could be, before he realized how damaged she was. Unless he was lying that she was a major reason that he and his girlfriend broke up, which is possible, I suppose. I think that once he realized how much her family had messed her up he wasn’t willing to be part of it.

          • Hmmm, maybe. Although I don’t think he wanted a long term relationship with anyone…but, I do agree, that once she revealed the extent of the family problems, he just wanted to flee.

            • I think he went into it thinking he could love her, but once he realized she would leave Daniel for him, the pressure became too much.

            • I also never thought he wanted a long term relationship with her. I think he liked her a lot and liked being with her, but it was what it was: a side fling. Then, of course, she went of the deep end with him…

              • I thought it was even before that. I think he thought she told about her brother b/c they were both black and he wasn’t looking to hear that from her anymore than she thought anyone else was. Even though he turned to her for that same reason about his girlfriend. He felt comfortable being less than perfect with her b/c she was also black. Her going off the deep end surely hastened things after that.

        • I think that Ben and Josie’s relationship was (on his side, anyway) about finding someone who is like you in a place where you’ve always been alone. It’s the two American’s who fall in love when the meet in a foreign country kind of thing. There is a sense of safety in the familiar. It’s a superficial attraction and destined to fall apart because there is no depth.

        • I think once you get involved with a man who has just ended a relationship with another woman, you are asking to be hurt. I think that Ben’s comment about sharing her brother’s story with him is poignant to his feelings. It would seem to me that he was attracted to her — maybe he too had been going-it-alone as a smart black scientist in a mostly white profession and felt a kinship to Josie. Maybe he wanted to love her, but just was not capable.

      • I got the feeling that Ben had strong feelings for Josie but not enough to let her leave her life with Daniel. Ben saw the seriousness of the situation. It’s funny how Josie didn’t. I think Ben was Josie’s addiction especially when she stated that the first time was the best time and every other time with him wasn’t as magical.

  • I really loved this book. I didn’t know anything much about it when I picked it up beyond the basics. The story started off slowly for me, but after about 50 pages, I couldn’t put it down. It had that trainwreck feel to it. I thought the relationships were well done. Daniel wasn’t the right person for her, but I felt for him because he was trying to reach her, and then I felt for her because she was reaching out for something that was clearly not the best thing, but her only way to connect. I loved that Josie could see things so matter of factly as a scientist but that it didn’t always make the translation to when she was dealing with people, and I got why she was so closed off.

    • I agree, Nicole – definitely a train wreck scenario (I knew it would end badly, but could not stop reading!)

    • This book definitely had a train-wreck feel to it. I really think that’s one of the reasons why I was able to devour this book even though Josie is such an unlikable character.

      It’s so funny to me that Josie knew – really knew- that Daniel loved her but she felt that the only reason he married her is to change the hardness she had about life. It’s as if she was unable to accept that he loved her for who she really is.

      • I find that so believable. This is exactly what people do all the time – they sabotage the good things in their life because deep down they don’t think they are worthy. Josie really didn’t like herself, I think…and despite her achievements, her ability to find a man who really loved her, she didn’t see the good in herself.

        • Wendy, I definitely agree with you. I don’t think Josie really liked herself but she tried to hide that fact by judging her father and brother.

    • It’s so funny, because I did not get the train wreck vibe at first. I expected some happy endings for a few characters, but I didn’t see the unraveling to the extent that happened.

  • To be perfectly honest, I really wasn’t sure what I thought about The Taste of Salt while I was reading, and immediately after I finished. It wasn’t until I started writing out my thoughts that I realized how much I really liked it, and how impressed I was with what Southgate did.

    Josie was definitely a hard character to get close to, but I saw her as being incredibly realistic. She was so damaged by her father and brother’s addictions that she was totally unable to be real with other people, including her husband.

    • I definitely liked it while reading, but taking this time to think about it has definitely made me like it even more.

    • What I didn’t get though was why Josie and even Tick were so damaged. They had a pretty ideal childhood; the father didn’t start the alcoholism until later.

      • I have a thought about that, Jill. Josie’s dad started drinking, when she was at that age where girls idolize their fathers. She needed him more at that time, than when she was small (that was when she was dependent on her mother). The fact that he essentially dropped out of her life due to drinking left that part of her growth and development stunted. As far as Tick goes, he was an addict which is largely genetic/medical make up…this he obviously adopted from his father. Only in Tick’s case, he was never successful at overcoming his addiction.

        • I’ll take the point about the dad, but actually she did know that Tick had a hereditary tendency, and yet she still slapped him when he came to her door, as if he had a choice! Meanwhile, she DID have a choice about whether to sabotage her marriage, and took it. Tick should have been slapping HER!

          • Well, Tick shouldn’t have slapped her for sabotaging her marriage, because it doesn’t have the same negative affect on him that his continuing the family legacy of alcoholism has on her. And, yes, she DID have a choice about whether to sabotage her marriage, but I saw no evidence that sabotaging her marriage wasn’t exactly what she was after. Daniel wanted more emotional intimacy with her, to have a baby with her, and she was incredibly hesitant to let herself become that emotionally dependent on another person again, after learning firsthand just how fallible people can be.

            • I think too it’s important to realize that even though genetics play a huge part in addiction, it doesn’t make it any easier for the other people in a family. And while Tick may have had limited choice in the matter of whether or not to use again (whether you believe that or not), he did make the choice to come to Woods Hole and make it her problem. It makes her character less likeable, but I felt like she was slapping him not for relapsing, but for involving her in the relapse.

              • Yes, Erica, that was my take as well. I work in the medical field, so I realize that addiction is a medical problem…but, a lot of people beat it and Tick’s family had supported him through two rehab programs. At some point, people have to take responsibility for their health and not expect others to fix it for them…which is where I think Tick was and why Josie was so tired of dealing with him.

                My response above was actually trying to give insight into the reason both Tick and Josie grew up with problems…not so much a meditation on Josie’s relationship with Tick.

          • I don’t even think you can compare the two. Josie was making damaging personal choices, that affected her and her husband, who made no bones about knowing what he had gotten himself into. Tick should not have been slapping anyone. This is someone forced sexual activity with a woman who was unable to fend for herself, was stealing from his mother, lost his job and basically gave himself over to his addiction so much that he killed himself. There was only so much anyone would have been able to do for him without him deciding to do it for himself. This is exactly what she was protecting herself from in the first place.

  • I really loved the book (here is my review: http://www.caribousmom.com/2011/11/08/the-taste-of-salt-book-review/ )

    I’m not sure if I would have picked up this book without BOOK CLUB, although the premise interested me.

    One of the things I really liked was the unusual way the book was narrated. I thought it worked. One of the primary themes is family connection, and by overlapping the narratives, and in fact making some of them vague as to who was speaking, was another way of emphasizing the interconnectedness of the characters, I think.

    Josie’s fear of being labeled made her turn away not only from her family, but from her culture. She begins to see what she is missing, I think, when she meets Ben. Sadly, I think her marriage to Daniel could have survived if she had only had more insight into her own motivations – he clearly loved her and wanted the marriage to work, but she held him at a distance.

    I liked the ending because it offered some hope for redemption. Ray was one of those people who had indeed made a go of his life – he was clean and sober and desired to stay that way. He loved his daughter and wanted that second chance. I think Josie still has a lot of growing to do before that relationship can work, but I do think it can happen. She has lost everything else.

    • I LOVED that glimpse of hope at the end, so sad that it took such tragedy to bring Josie to the point where she could even venture to consider having a relationship with her father again.

      • *nods* I don’t think I would have loved the book as much without that ending. Dark books need a little light sometimes, and this is what Southgate gave her readers.

    • I wished that readers saw the family through their own eyes instead of Josie but I think she does a great job of bringing her mother, Sarah, to life.

      I was a little disappointed by this book but if Southgate wrote another book about Josie, I would definitely read it. I want to see where this character is headed.

        • I love the ending because of the hope it gives readers about Josie but I was left wanting more. I do think this is a solid read. It’s not really about addiction but more about relationships, with others and ourselves.

          • I also wanted more. I liked the book a lot, but I wanted Southgate to go even deeper; I feel like she only skimmed the surface of the characters.

            • Yes, I would love some kind of sequel or follow-up to find out where the characters are and how they have dealt with (or not dealt with) Tick’s death and Josie’s failed marriage.

      • Good point, Vasilly…even though at times I wanted to slap some sense into Josie, I ended up caring about her. I too want to know what happens to her.

        Re: POV – Southgate chose to give us a limited view through Josie’s eyes (and even the sections where we hear from the other family members, those voices are filtered through Josie). I thought that was the author’s way of saying that this book is really about Josie…it is how she sees the world, her family…it is about her decisions based on her view of the way things went down in her life. Another character could have offered us a different perspective (how much of Josie’s view was inaccurate?)…but, I thought the choice to limit the POV worked for this novel.

        • I really like the way that Josie explains how she’s breaking from her research background to write her story and how she admits that, while she’s borrowing their voices, she’s telling it the way she saw it, filling in details with her best guesses. I think she (Josie) does this in an attempt to understand the perspectives of the other characters, though I’m not sure that she succeeds.

          • Yes, I agree… This is some of the inner soul searching I think she is doing – putting things in some kind of order, striving to see it from the point of view of her family.

            • Did you guys notice that Josie didn’t have much to say about Tick from the parents’ point of view? She put plenty of words in her parents’ mouths about herself – she’s so smart and great, but when it came to Tick there’s not much except that he was her best friend. I did notice how at the end of the chapter for Ray, that he wonders if Tick can fight his addiction though he doubted it. It’s almost as if Josie didn’t have any faith in Tick while dismissing the fact that her father has been sober for years.

              • I know we discussed this briefly before, but I have a couple of thoughts about this.

                1. She was jealous of Tick because of his relationship with their mother (when her relationship with her father went sour because of his alcoholism).

                2. It would make sense that they didn’t pay much attention to Tick, or how else would he have become an addict himself? It said that he was always going off with his friends and getting into substances (if I remember correctly… I don’t have the book right in front of me), and if his parents had been paying even a little bit of attention to him, they would have know what was going on (and maybe could have stopped it).

                3. She is so embarrassed with Tick–or distraught over his death–at the time that she’s writing this all down that maybe it hurts her to write much about him concerning their childhood (since that is when they were the closest).

                Just speculation, though. It’s a good question.

              • As far as her father being sober, I don’t think she could have considered that in terms of Tick’s success because she didn’t really believe in her father. Deep down she still didn’t trust that he would start drinking again. I think she wrote him off and shut down after that relapse he had as a teenager.

                • Nicole, she didn’t believe in her father but she admitted that he has been sober all that time. I agree with you that she was afraid of him relapsing which is why she stayed away.

                • Nicole,
                  Perhaps you have touched here upon my main objection to Josie and how I wish she would have grown in the book. To me, it seemed like she never considered the pain that her father or brother endured as addicts; she only thought of their addiction in terms of how it pained (or inconvenienced) HER life. Her mother was much better at looking at both sides of the coin, but Josie was so adamantly closed off to feeling anything that she never let compassion in. I had hoped by the end she could have grown in that way, but it sounded like she was still just trying to decide if she could trust her dad not to bring more pain to HER.

                  • One thing I noticed is that Ray and Tick would comment that they didn’t know what was wrong with them or couldn’t pinpoint why they wanted that next drink. Josie is very rational, looking for the answers in equations and data. That “unknown” was something she just couldn’t grasp.

                    • Justice, I think that’s very true. There’s this hopelessness when it comes to Tick and his addiction. Even he admits that it was no longer about getting high but more about having that next drink or line of coke.

  • So did I. And I loved that Southgate balanced out the fates of the father and of Tick. It gave the father’s redemption so much more significance and made it believable.

    • Yup – in fact, I grew to really love the dad. I wanted so badly for Josie to come back and give him another chance to do it right this time.

      • I really felt for Josie’s father, too. He wanted so badly to do the right thing, but his alcoholism had such a firm hold on him. Knowing from experience (having a few alcoholics in my family), I know how easy it is to slip back into that addiction sometimes, no matter how much a person doesn’t want it to happen.

        • I’m so surprised that I liked Josie’s dad. I have a relationship with my father that is not unlike hers, and it’s been only recently that we’ve been able to reconnect. It took him getting sick (early on-set alzheimers) to do it.

          I wonder if this is also the reason that I judged Josie so harshly. I put it all behind me, and she seemed so unwilling to even try.

          • But did it take the tragedy of the diagnosis for you to put it behind you? She didn’t have that similar tragedy until Tick died, and it does seem at the very end that she might be at least willing to try to put it behind her.

            • No – we had been working on the change before he told me about the diagnosis. That did speed it up, though.

              One of the things that I disliked about Josie was that she was so stubborn – even when she says she’s willing to do something (like the whole baby thing) whether or not she’s willing to actually do it is another matter. I just don’t know if I think she’ll succeed.

              • And I really want her to.

              • I think what was key here to was that her father kept trying and kept showing her that he actually had changed. With my father, though he was no longer actively using that negative aspect of his personality was coming out in other ways, and continued to come out even after he got sick. When he passed away there was A LOT left unresolved between us.

              • @Erica — I agree and wish Josie had done a lot of things differently, but remember that her father had claimed change in the past and then started drinking again. So I can also understand Josie’s reluctance to trust him.

          • I really appreciate this comment, Cassandra…because I think we definitely feel a certain way about a book and its characters depending on our own life experiences. I haven’t had to deal with drug/alcohol addiction in my immediate family, but I did have to overcome a failed first marriage because of my ex’s infidelity…so for me, I was much more critical of Josie re: her actions with Ben than I was about her relationship with either her father or Tick.

            Interesting!

          • My empathy came from a place where my father and I have always had a very good relationship. My parents and I are very close, and I can’t imagine not having that. At the same time, I can’t imagine what I would do if that relationship were ruined by some outside force (addiction or something else). It would be so hard for me to come to terms with it all. I’m glad that you’ve put things behind you and are willing to reconnect with your father.

          • I also kept thinking of my own relationship with my father–I don’t think we’ve said more than 30 words to each other in the past year and a half (though not because of addiction). I could totally understand where Josie was coming from.

            Yet I also felt for Josie’s father; by the end of the book, I was looking at Josie like “What is your problem???” The key is what Erica said: her father had worked hard to show her that he had changed, and but she stubbornly kept that wall up (not that I blame her).

      • I almost wondered if their relationship would take another turn – would she hold it against her father that Tick couldn’t overcome his addiction?

  • I enjoyed this book very much, and I would have read it with or without BOOK CLUB. In fact, I was already planning on reading it in the near future, so I jumped at the chance to be a part of a discussion about it. Thank you for that, Jen and Nicole.

    I liked the way Southgate chose to put the story together by having Josie imagine different parts of the story from the perspective of her family members. Obviously, it’s hard to tell the time frame of when the actual events took place compared to when Josie was “writing” her story, but having her imagine the issues surrounding her family and their addictions was a good way to get her to look at things from their points of view. If this had been real life, that would have been a very good way to get Josie to realize that everyone was suffering in their own way, that they were all going through the same things from different perspectives, and that she needn’t be embarrassed or tough about it. Josie really did need help, and I had a lot of empathy for her and her family. Addiction is a very scary, hard issue to deal with concerning everyone involved. It’s heartbreaking.

    I’m sure her relationship with her father will never be a strong one, but I do think that they were able to reconcile some things and at least begin to accept one another’s feelings about everything that happened. Where it would go from there, I have no idea.

    • So people have been mentioning what they thought of the structure and Josie telling the stories of the other members of her family here and there, but since you mentioned it extensively here, I’d lvoe for us to collect our opinions about this approach in one place. I was somewhat put off by it initially, but I grew to really appreciate it, I understood that she might not be entirely reliable, but I do think she was trying her best, and putting things down as best as she understood that they happened.

      • Right. I think that although their stories were told through her lens, it gave us a good look at why she felt the way she did about her family and the situation, and I got the feeling more than once that she was really trying to see things from their point of view and not be so judgmental about it. It was a start, you know? Even though she wanted to leave her family behind, I could feel that she did have some empathy for them but just couldn’t bring herself to let her guard down and accept it all fully. It was obvious that she loved all of them very much but that self-preservation eventually won out.

      • This was actually one of my favorite parts of the book – the unusual narrative technique. So many writers would not have been able to handle all those threads – it would have gotten confusing…but Southgate was so talented in controlling the story. It really worked for me.

        • I concur. I expected it to be more confusing, but I really enjoyed it. I never felt confused about the narration, and it provided an amazing amount of history and backstory in such a slim book.

      • I actually didn’t like it, even though I usually do like when authors use this technique. It felt contrived to me, especially since Josie would actually refer to it and her need to get creative in her retelling of the story (I don’t have the book with me right now, but I think she said that when she began talking about how her parents met).

        • I think usually when this sort of thing happens and they DON’T refer to it, it pulls me out of the story, because I’m wondering who exactly is supposed to be providing the insight at that point, or how we’re supposed to believe that the main character knows that. Can you think of any examples where you’ve found it to be particularly well done, Melissa?

          • I loved it in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and in Sandra Cisneros’s Carmelo (although that one is a little different because the narrators also announce a lot of their intentions).

            More recently, I liked it in Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, except that one is hit or miss because he develops some voices a lit more than others.

            • I haven’t read the others, but I’m reading THE MARRIAGE PLOT right now, and it seems like a totally different proposition. It is genuinely from multiple perspectives, with an authorial voice, as opposed to everything being from the perspective of a single character who tells other people’s stories as well.

  • (By the way, if I missed the reviews of anyone participating here, feel free to add them in response to this comment, I’ll add any linked here between now and Thanksgiving)

  • Same here–I was initially skeptical of it but in the end it was really a strength of the book.

  • Well, I am off to work. I’ll check back in this evening. This has been a great discussion – thanks to everyone who read the book and stopped in today…and special thanks to Nicole, Jen and Algonquin Books for the opportunity!

  • I have seen this book over the blogs – with these kinds of comments I think I’d go look for this book. Intriguing.

  • Ok, first sorry I’m so late to the discussion. It’s been one of those weeks.

    * First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
    I liked the book for the most part, but Josie didn’t seem to evolve much beyond her closed off, judgmental self at the beginning.

    * Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?

    Yes, I was intrigued by the setting, which we don’t see much of and by the premise of a lone Black scientist in marine biology at Woods Hole.

    * It is not always immediately apparent which family member is narrating a given chapter. What do you think Southgate’s purpose is in structuring her story like this, and do you think it worked well?

    I could tell right away who was narrating, but I’m not sure that this is necessary. The different perspectives don’t add much more to the story.

    * Josie feared that if people knew she was a black girl with an alcoholic brother they would judge her harshly. How did she let this influence her life?

    She let this influence every part of her life. Not just her alcoholic brother, but also having an alcoholic father. They went to a school far from home, made her mother drop them off so the bus could take them there. never invited friends over after school to their home, and she basically cut off all ties with her family once she had a final falling out with her father.

    * Did Josie’s marriage ever have a chance? What were the problems they faced, and how might they have been overcome?

    I don’t think this was a true marriage in the sense that they were together because they both wanted to be and loved one another on the same level. Josie even states at the beginning that it is easier to love marine life and the ocean than to love a person. Loving is hard work, and Josie has basically avoided the harsh parts of love and relationships her entire life. She would have to had an open relationship with Daniel for it to have a chance; she would have had to tell him everything and open up emotionally, but then again, Daniel didn’t seem like he tried hard enough to break through her walls.

    * Do you think that Josie and Ray have hope of a real reconciliation at the end of the book? Why? What brought them to this place?

    The death of Tick brought them closer together, and I think Southgate’s image of her father taking off his shoes and standing in the water is significant to his state of mind — his willingness to try to rebuild their relationship. And she must be willing because she stayed there by his side in that water.

    I’m wondering why all the references of race, and what that meant for the purposes of the addiction topic at hand. I didn’t see a strong enough connection between the two.

  • Margie

    Great book club discussion! I wanted to add my comment because I feel as if I read the book a little differently than most. I read it as less of an addiction story and more of an outsider’s story. Josie has the skills and education to escape her background and to start a new life. The kind of life her father may have dreamed of but never achieved (hence the alcoholism). Josie marries a white scientist, but yet she can’t fully commit to a future with him. She feels conflicted about leaving her past and her racial identity behind. Josie’s lonely in this white world, so she reaches out to a black man who gives her the chance to reconnect with her past identity. Unfortunately, her past is messy & shameful & complicated. I could totally relate to Josie, who has a foot in two very different worlds, and is struggling to figure it out. I really, really enjoyed this book. It made me cry (my own little taste of salt), which for me is actually high praise.

    • Margie: I think you are right about this having dual themes…and Southgate definitely shows us Josie’s struggle to escape her past, although that is not really possible for her to do so. In my review, I wrote The Taste of Salt is a powerful book that examines addiction, family roots, diversity, and prejudice. It asks the essential question: Are we ever really able to shed our past?

      I think the answer, in Josie’s case, is “no.”

      Like you, I found the book very powerful.

    • Margie, I totally see it that way too. It reminded me of Mary Karr’s LIT, which mines that same territory of trying to fit into a world that is much less disordered than the world you grew up in, and always feeling like you’ve failed at this endeavor.

  • […] also had a really amazing BOOK CLUB discussion on Tuesday about The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate. If you’ve read the book, please feel free to stop on by and add your own two cents! […]

  • […] originally read this for Book Club at Devourer of Books, with Linus’s […]