When all was said and done, Jo supposed, she would simply call hers a story of salt. Parts of it were bitter on the tongue, parts of it were rocky, and over the years parts had even melted clean away. What was left were the concentrated bits, the crystals that cracked and sparkled when crushed between her teeth. “Grit,” the people in Prospect called it, but it was far more than that, Jo knew. It was regret given weight, history made tangible. It was everything she and her sister should have said to each other and then never did.
The opening paragraph of Tiffany Baker’s The Gilly Salt Sisters sets the tone immediately for a novel with dark emotion at the heart of it. Jo and Claire may be sisters, but beyond the Gilly name, they’ve never had much in common. As adults they both still reside in the small Cape Cod town where they were born, yet live distinctly different and separate lives. Their pasts are as interwoven as can be, each with her share of pain and loss, and if the family lore holds true, their futures will inevitably be linked, as well.
Starting with the very name of the town Prospect, Baker introduces a chilling and uncertain essence to this story. A literary small town can often be full of oddities, from customs to characters, and that’s definitely the case here. A salt farm on the Cape Cod marshes makes for an ever-ominous setting, along with the waves always breaking on the beach, and the town full of old tales and gossip.
The Gilly family’s salt farm seems to hold inexplicable powers, and the salt itself, gleaned from the marshes through nothing short of absolute devotion to the work by the Gilly women generation after generation, plays an important role in the Prospect community’s survival, even as the Gilly family keeps to themselves on the edge of town. As a child, all Claire hoped to do in life was to escape the world of the salt marshes, but when her path takes her from the lowest to the highest station in town, she wonders if her continued sorrows are a direct result of crossing the salt. Jo, however, could never imagine leaving the farm, and she keeps on the family tradition, even in the face of Claire’s attempts at ruining her.
Rivalry, fear, family, and love– especially loves lost– are intertwined themes that make for a story to pull in readers from the first chapter. The Gilly Salt Sisters combines family drama, small town folklore, and a unique blast of the unexplainable into a piece of enchanting fiction with beautiful writing and characters who are hard to easily describe.
Dawn’s escapes into fiction can magically help her forget piles of laundry and quibbling children. She really swears that she’s going to blog again someday soon at my thoughts exactly.