If your book group is looking for something new strong on character and language with weighty themes and complex family dynamics, try Martha Southgate’s The Taste of Salt.
Narrated at times from the various perspectives of the Henderson family, the book primarily focuses on Josie Henderson, a black marine biologist working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution with her husband, Daniel, a white scientist in her field. Josie has found herself and put her past behind her in her work; as a young girl growing up in Cleveland, Josie fell in love with and found solace in water. This passage illuminates this passion and foreshadows a lot of what comes after.
The greatest thing about the job was getting to be in the water nearly everyday. My favorite part was after I had all my dive equipment on. Rolling in backward and letting the water close over my head. The air coming into me from the oxygen tank on my back so that I was buoyed up and breathing even though it and the fish would swim up and hover around me like jewel-colored 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 here.
Part of what Josie seeks out in her work and in her submersion in the underwater world is an escape from the pain of the past. Growing up with an alcoholic father and watching her brother descend into his own addiction has caused deep rifts in Josie’s understanding of family and home. It is hard for Josie to trust, to create real intimacy in her life. But the patterns of the past start to emerge in Josie’s life in ways she didn’t anticipate, making it harder to hold herself separate from her family and herself.
Life can weigh a lot, and it’s in discovering what you can carry and what you can’t that you learn some of life’s most poignant lessons. The Taste of Salt would spark a rich discussion about the pains, joys, disappointments and revelations of family life and personal achievement.