Josie Henderson has gotten used to loneliness. As the only senior African-American marine biologist at Woods Hole Institute in Massachusetts, she's used to being underestimated or ignored. In fact, she's so accustomed to isolation, as Martha Southgate writes in The Taste of Salt, that even her husband can't get through. “There's this hollow place in me – this place that needs to be alone, this place that vibrates and can't keep still.”
The aloneness she craves is about to get blasted to smithereens. Her brother, Tick, who was her ally when their alcoholic father was still living at home, has just gotten out of his second stint in rehab, and Josie has to go home to Cleveland to pick him up.
“A Taste of Salt” looks at the memories Josie has worked hard to repress through her mother's, father's, and Tick's eyes, examining the effects of addiction on both generations. The ending is predictable, but Southgate brings a thoughtful intelligence to her downbeat tale.
Before he started drinking too much, Josie's dad was a factory worker who adored Edmund Spenser's poetry and longed to be a writer. “I like a lot of writers that people don't think a guy like me would like,” he says. Her mother, Sarah, was a college-educated nurse whom he adored. In pictures, he “had a book under one arm and the other arm around her.”
Tick and Josie, however, had a rather different image of their dad: in a T-shirt, with a beer in his hand, staring mindlessly at the TV. Her mother resolutely pretended nothing was wrong, until she threw him out. “The truth was not to be spoken. I got that,” Josie remembered.
Life underwater made silence easy. “Life weighs a ton. That's why I love the water. Nothing weighs anything there.” Unfortunately for her, at some point, you have to come up for air.