Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the Goodreads’ First Reads program.
“No, you didn’t fall in love with a home. You fell in love with the stories you told yourself about what had happened there and what you imagined could happen. Any good realtor would tell you that. Just like any good matchmaker would tell you the same about a soul mate—you didn’t fall in love with him. You fell in love with the stories of who you imagined you’d be when you were with him. The feeling of having dreamed of him long before you met him was like invisible ink written on your skin.”
Dolly and Ruth grew up in the back of a car, piloted from place to place by the whims of their eccentric and troubled mother, Diana, who read the future and planned their course by the moon and her annual farmer’s almanac. They find some stability with Dr. Brownstein, who runs a motel-turned-nursing home in Long Beach to which they return several times. Eventually this place becomes home for Ruth, and it is there that she meets Graham, who turns her world upside down all over again. A fisherman, Graham comes and goes from her life erratically, eventually leaving her pregnant and raising their daughter, Naida, alone. With a deformed foot, second sight, and an irresistible calling to the ocean, Naida isn’t like the other children in Long Beach, and she longs to know her father, to understand the missing half of her heritage, and how it makes her different from everyone else. This multi-generational family saga explores the complex relationships between mothers and daughters and sisters.
Loosely plotted but beautifully written, The Salt God’s Daughter has a languid pace that is more about the journey than the destination. The relationships between women, particularly between mothers and daughters, take centre stage, with the men hovering at the periphery of the tale. Ilie Ruby’s mysticism is subtle and deft, an unusual hybrid of Jewish heritage, Scottish myth, and pagan lore. The mysticism builds slowly, at first seeming merely symbolic but eventually becoming more literal, though this is not a story that deals in clear explanations of supernatural phenomena. I was expecting something more openly mythical, perhaps along the lines of The Golem and the Jinni, but this is entirely different sort of book, and one for which setting expectations is probably key to enjoyment. Ruby’s lyrical language often means that events or meanings are vague, open to interpretation, or requiring later clarification. It would be entirely possible to interpret the supernatural elements as allegorical, or as a coping mechanism created by the trauma in the women’s lives, although I think to do so would be reductive. However, I think this novel could have benefited from more consistent pacing, and thorough editing. There is something very beautiful about The Salt God’s Daughter, but it feels more like a diamond in the rough than a polished final product.
Enjoy magic realism? I recommend Away by Jane Urquhart.
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