Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Freebie: The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate

Congratulations to Jennifer Gravley, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler.

This week's book giveaway is The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate, courtesy of Algonquin Books.  Here's the publisher's blurb for the novel:
Josie Henderson is most at home in and around water, and as a senior-level black female scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, she is practically alone in her field. But in building this impressive life for herself, she has tried to shed the one thing she cannot: her family roots back in Cleveland. When Tick, her brother and childhood ally against their alcoholic father, arrives on her doorstep fresh from rehab and teetering on the edge of a relapse, Josie must finally face her family’s past--and her own patterns of addiction.

Even before its release, the novel was gathering praise like flies to honey.  Booklist chimed: "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."  I loved this blurb from Victor LaValle (author of Big Machine): "Martha Southgate has written a tender, confident, and unfussy novel about a marine biologist who tries to save herself by shutting out the human world.  Of course, that never works, and her journey back toward connection gives this novel its charge.  This book is a moving eulogy for lost loved ones and even for a lost, loved city, Cleveland. The Taste of Salt had me misting up by the end.  For real."

By now, you should know I'm a sucker for great opening lines--the drum roll, the curtain pull-back, the metal clang of the gate and the explosion of horses charging forward.  Hook me on that first page and you've got me for the next 250.  I especially like the way Southgate opens The Taste of Salt.  This first paragraph is told in a simple, somewhat choppy voice (which in itself reveals the narrator's character), and it packs a lot of exposition into a short space.  Ready, set, go:
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. I’m kind of tall, like Baker, and medium brown, like her. Can’t sing, though. And I don’t look too good in a skirt made out of bananas. To my knowledge, no one has ever written a song about me. Everybody calls me Josie—that feels more like my right name to me. My brother is nicknamed Tick, because when he was little, he was such a fast and efficient crawler that my father said he was just like a little watch—ticktock, ticktock. That got shortened to Tick and it stuck. That’s what everybody calls him. His given name is Edmund after the poet Edmund Spenser. That was Daddy’s idea too. He could not get over The Faerie Queene. That was one of his favorite books. I’ve never read it. Looks too complicated to me. I was raised to respect books—the house was full of them. From the time I was little, it was drummed into our heads that books were almost the most important thing in the world, second only to getting a good education. So I’ve read a lot of fiction’s greatest hits—either I had to for school or I felt like I should or Daddy told me to read them. I even enjoyed some of them. But they’re not what I’m drawn to. When I read, I want it to be something that I can use. So mostly I read monographs. I read texts. I read science and history. Mostly, I read about what’s happening in the ocean. That’s enough to fill your mind for a lifetime.

If you'd like to fill your mind with the rest of Southgate's words, enter today for a chance to win a copy of the novel.  All you have to do is answer this question:

What writer said Southgate "can write fast and hot, then lush and tender, then just plain truthful and burning with heart"?  (Find the answer on Southgate's homepage)

Email your answer to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Please e-mail me the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Oct. 6--at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Oct. 7.

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