Book Title and Author: The Salt House by Lisa Duffy
Publication date and Publisher: Published June 13th 2017 by Touchstone
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Pages: 304 pages
Date Read: June 12, 2017
In the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova, this gorgeously written, heartbreaking, yet hopeful debut set during a Maine summer traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy.
In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.
A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.
When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.
Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.
The Salt House is one of the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking novels that I have read in quite a long time, maybe if ever. I knew going into the story that it was about the loss of a young toddler, but the story emotionally overwhelmed me for so many reasons. I completely empathized and sympathized with the Kelly family, especially Hope and Jack as they dealt with the loss of their baby girl because I know much too well what it is like to be very close to someone who lost a child. A few years ago my sister-in-law lost a child at 26 weeks and as a family member, I was allowed to hold the baby before she passed away. I will never forget the tiny little weight of her against my body and her smell. Or my sister-in-law’s overwhelming grief that was exactly like Hope’s. Both Hope’s reaction and Jack’s were raw, powerful, and brutal but so real and absolutely honest. The realism hurts even if you have no personal situation to relate to but the realism makes the story all the more beautiful and convincing.
It is Hope’s and Jack’s reactions to Maddie’s accidental death, as well as the struggles of their other two daughters Jess, age 16 and Kat, age 8 to deal with the loss of their baby sister and the stresses and changes in their parents that made this story a deserving albeit very difficult read. Duffy brilliantly writes the story from the point of view from all four members of the Duffy family, and it is each of their unique perspectives that really helps you understand what life is like for not only the family as a whole but each of them individually since they lost baby Maddie.
It was Hope who I most felt for and empathized with since she was so wrapped in guilt and was unable to move on from Maddie’s death that she became emotionally absent from her husband and other two daughters. You could feel her pain so vividly that you just wanted to hold her and tell her she was not alone! You really wanted to tell her there were so many others like her who had been in her shoes and life does move on…slowly but surely. It was hard not to feel her overwhelming guilt that she had been busy writing for her parenting column while Maddie died in her crib, and understand why she couldn’t let go of Maddie…the blame, despair, or her ashes. The blame is the hardest issue Hope deals with since it was always needling her thoughts and had her asking”what if”…
Jack’s reaction may come across as harsh since he channels his grief in nonstop work, but he has no idea how to grieve, which the reader understands more fully at the book’s end. Yes, it is a bit frustrating at times that he will not talk or share his feelings, but most men don’t. Men often bury their grief, especially when they see their wives lost and drowning since they often don’t know what to do when they are being constantly pushed away by their wives, so he puts all the blame for everything that has happened on his shoulders. With Hope no longer working and two mortgages to pay, one on their house in town and the other on their beloved Salt House cottage, working and providing for his family was also the only way he knew to be there and support his family. I liked Jack and understood his grief as a form of desperation and self-blame even when he acted stupid and too angry at times.
Jess and Kat just stole my heart. It was really hard to read how they were struggling with the loss of their sister but more so to read about their pain of seeing their parents fighting and the dramatic change in their family after growing up with almost perfect family dynamics. Jess was a great narrator, and her story is wonderful as she is so close to being an adult and sees so closely the problems between her parents in a way even they do not understand. She’s angry with both her mother and father..Hope for her emotional absence and Jack for his self-blame. Kat is an adorable narrator and although she is still confused about Maddie’s death since Hope refuses to scatter Maddie’s ashes or have a ceremony, she understands her mother’s needs and what would make Maddie the happiest. That part of the book (not to give away any spoilers) made me cry probably the hardest.
I would have given the book 5 stars except for the entire part with Ryland Finn, Jack’s nemesis from his youth. Except for the fact that Finn’s stepson and Jess fall in love, the whole Finn and Jack as enemies subplot was just drawn out and really added nothing to the story at all. It was like filler material that I could have done without. If it was meant to add action or drama to the story, it really did not.
Regardless, I loved Duffy’s writing. It was wonderful, perfectly paced since this is not a book you want to rush through, and the main characters are lovely although imperfect. The Salt House is a heartbreaking, roller coaster emotional read, and tells how grief can devastate a family but also bring them back together stronger than before.
*Thank you, NetGalley, Touchstone, and Lisa Duffy for an ARC of this book to read in exchange for my honest and unbiased fair review. *