Review: The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

The Taste of Salt

Martha Southgate

288 pages

Publication Date: September 2011

Publisher: Algonquin

Source: gift

My mother named me after Josephine Baker. I think she was hoping I’d be more artistically inclined. The sort of woman who would sing as she swayed elegantly through the streets of Paris. The sort of woman who would have many men at her feet. The sort of woman men would write songs about. Didn’t work out like that, though.

Josie Henderson is a smart 30-something African American woman. She’s done everything possible to have the life she lives as a scientist and wife to Daniel, a devoted husband and fellow scientist. For Josie, having that life means failing to acknowledge all parts of her childhood including her family. But when her little brother Tick relapses and lands into rehab once more, Josie is forced to play a bigger role in Tick’s life.

This book was a rollercoaster for me. At the story’s beginning, Josie is driving to a rehab center in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio to pick up her Tick. Tick has been in and out of rehab for the past few years and this time the Henderson family is hoping that this is Tick’s last time. Josie is weary of Tick and their family but is willing to help just a little if it means sparing her mother more pain. That’s as close as Josie gets to being selfless. Throughout the book, Josie makes bad decisions after bad decision.

I understand the fact that she has to distance herself from her family after growing up with an alcoholic father, lonely mother, and absent little brother. Josie’s childhood was somewhat normal though she didn’t have anyone to turn to. That might be why she doesn’t feel a connection to her family as an adult. But Josie is still a character that’s hard to feel sorry for or even like much.

A high point in the book is when Josie’s trying to recreate her childhood and the things she doesn’t know about her family. We see Josie’s parents, Sarah and Ray, meeting for the first time, their hopes, dreams, and disappointments. The flashbacks bring minor characters to life but I think letting these characters speak for themselves instead of having Josie imagine them would have made this book so much stronger.

I’m glad I read The Taste of Salt. It’s not perfect but I’m finding that it’s a perfect book for discussion. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

A favorite quote from the book:

When I was eight, nine, ten, I was in love with my father. Of course I was. That’s what girls do. And despite all the hard times, there are some good days to remember. That’s what makes the bad ones harder to accept. I always though that if I could do just the right thing, if I could just say some magic words I didn’t know, that I could make the good days stay, maybe even multiply. That’s what people always think. That’s what’s so hard to let go of. 


15 thoughts on “Review: The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate”

  1. Exactly! When I discussed this for an Imprint Friday feature I predicted that it’d be great for book clubs because there is so much to discuss.

  2. I need to consider this one for my book club, as I have been trying to think of something that will stimulate conversation for awhile now. Though Josie doesn’t sound really likeable, I bet there are tons and tons of layers to both her and the other characters that would make for a really good conversation. Great review today!

  3. This seems to be a love it or hate it kind of book (which is another reason it makes for interesting book club discussion!). I was in the love it camp…for me, despite the primary character being largely unlikable (or difficult to empathize with) the writing was so sharp, so intuitive and so original (in terms of narration), that I could not put the book down.

    Thanks for the honest review!

  4. I had the very opposite feeling for Josie and had so much empathy for her and her family. She was pretty messed up (some of that being her own fault), but addiction is such a terrible disease for people to deal with, both those who are addicted and the family members that are involved. Great review, though…I love to see how many different feelings and interpretations can come out of one book.

    1. Melissa, I don’t know if you know that there’s a discussion of this book going on right now. It’s at I hope you join us!

  5. Drat! I was looking forward to reading this after really loving The Fall of Rome last year, but now I’m afraid this one will be no good to me. I don’t have much patience for protagonists who come off selfish and uncaring, which is what this one sounds like.

  6. Hm, this does sound like a good book group choice. I think books with flaws (to a degree) make for better discussions than the really awesome ones. I remember one month when my group read Parnassus on Wheels. All we did was sit around sighing about how lovely and perfect it was — there was nothing to discuss!

  7. I’ve read several positive reviews of this book and your lukewarm review actually heightens my interest in reading this book. I’m very curious about Josie’s character and whether or not I’d have empathy for her. Growing up with an alcoholic father can be very rough, add to that a lonely mother and it becomes the stuff of nightmares especially for a child. But it sounds like the author made it seem as if Josie’s childhood was normal which confuses me. I think some people would want to distance themselves from those parents and others might be willing to help them again and again. Josie also might just be an unkind person. Hence my curiosity. The quote you included in your review is great. I like Martha Southgate’s writing style, too.

    I really enjoyed your review. It’s made me think more about this book even though I haven’t read it yet. I’m looking forward to doing so!

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