Tiffany Baker,
The Gilly Salt Sisters
(Grand Central Publishing, 2012)

Author Tiffany Baker's The Gilly Salt Sisters is a novel that draws the reader in right from the start. The story begins with a mother and her two daughters who harvest salt for a living. Every word is poetically chosen. Every character has his or her own personality. The hints of more to come start early, and suspense builds.

The Gilly women have worked the salt marsh for generations. It's a hard life that has not been kind. The work brings little thanks -- even garnering fear and resentment in some. The Gillys will not give up their marsh until they breathe their last breath, even if that only means keeping the marsh out of Turner hands. The salt has taken much from them, but has also given back.

The Turners are hanging onto their privileged position by a thin, unraveling thread. It is the matriarch's obsession to possess the magical Salt Creek Marsh, something that the Gillys infuriatingly won't let go, no matter how many times they are offered money for the marsh. Her son marries the rebellious Gilly sister who is desperate to escape the salt, not for love, but for her expected inheritance of half the marsh. Things don't work out quite as either of them had planned.

There are three main protagonists: Jo, Claire and Dee, and the book basically settles itself around these very different three, all of them eventually coming together under the weight of a small, engraved silver locket. Baker parcels out morsels of the back stories a little bit at a time, which was both intriguing and maddening. Either way, it makes the reader want more. Eventually, alliances change, old scores are settled, and new ones emerge. By the end of the book, the reader is just thirsting to learn the deep, dark Gilly secrets.

Although the Cape Cod town of Prospect and Drake's Beach are fictional, Baker has nicely captured the essence of a small touristy fishing village from the perspective of the year-round inhabitants. I will have to trust that the author has done her research and has realistically portrayed the harvesting of Cape Cod sea salt, as I don't know much about it. I only know for certain that it still exists in a very small fraction today.

The Gilly Salt Sisters is poetic, engaging, mystical and magical -- in more ways than one. It is even better than Baker's debut novel, The Little Giant of Aberdeen, which I also loved. However, as much as I loved this book, I have to admit I guessed the two big bombshells, and although the end was unexpected, I'm not sure it sat well with me. Still, one of my best reads of the year.

book review by
Lee Lukaszewicz

15 August 2015

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