The Gilly Salt Sisters
by Tiffany Baker
Released March, 2012
In the isolated Cape Cod village of Prospect, the Gilly sisters are as different as can be. Jo, a fierce and quiet loner, is devoted to the mysteries of her family’s salt farm, while Claire yearns to flee the salt at any cost; and forcing those around her to do the same thing. But the Gilly land hides a dark legacy that proves impossible to escape, it doesn’t stop Whit Turner, the town’s wealthiest bachelor, from forcing his way into their lives. It’s Jo who first steals Whit’s heart, but it is Claire–heartbroken over her high school sweetheart–who marries him.
Years later, estranged from her family, Claire finds herself thrust back onto the farm with the last person she would have chosen: her husband’s pregnant mistress. Suddenly, alliances change, old loves return, and new battle lines are drawn. What the Gilly sisters learn about each other, the land around them, and the power of the salt, will not only change each of their lives forever, it will also alter Gilly history for good.
As the two sisters struggle to find their place on the Salt Creek Farm, they must decide who they are and how willing are they to save their debilitated farm?
I was first drawn to this book by the idea of salt and the power it possesses. To think a simple substance we take for granted could be something more intrigued me. As I read the novel, beginning to get deeper into it, I didn’t find myself entirely engrossed and connected. The element of salt almost takes a backseat–like the backseat of Jo’s beat-up truck. It is present, of course, but Baker tries hard to transform the meaning of salt and our preconceptions about it to an unbelievable point. The usage of salt was presented as if it was an addictive, illegal drug trying to get in the wrong hands, causing an abundance of trouble. But, why, you may ask? We use salt for everything. It is because the stuck-up character Claire Gilly-Turner makes it so.
Younger of the two sisters, Claire Gilly has tried to avoid the salt her family makes at all costs. Once she left Salt Creek Farm twelve years prior, she has tried to forget about the substance, yet by trying, and succeeding to convince the people of Prospect of the poison that is Salt Creek salt, she is more tied to than she realizes. Although her food is bland with no salt; the annual December Eve bonfire is not the same without a Gilly sister throwing in salt to see what the year will bring for the little town; and spending more energy on convincing the townspeople of the nasty, psychological qualities it possesses; and trying to disown her sister and the family business, in the end it may be the only thing that can save her. Although she is a Gilly sister by birth, in turn she becomes the poster child of anti-salt usage, trying to start a revolt that affects her older sister, the last Gilly, partly without Claire realizing the consequences. She just wanted to break free from all the superstitions that stained her life, she is clinging to it more than she knows.
She loved once, with all her heart. As she became violently heart-broken, a fire and her sister’s burned skin and glass eye becomes a constant reminder. Unfortunately, the feeling of remorse seemed to be absent for me. Not entirely out of spite, more for longing to leave her life, she marries the only man her sister ever lived, Whit Turner, from the wealthiest family. But, your first love always remains in your heart and as the story unfolds, Claire starts to painfully learn that. “Love wasn’t a list to be kept in the heart. It was the duties you got up to fulfill every day and the sacrifices you made.”
I may not have truly cared for Claire, there was a deepness to her I could identify with. I may not have approved how she went about things with the salt, I could understand her longings to be someone else and want to leave behind a painful past. She learns, as we learn with her.
“How do you tell the difference between carelessness and passion?” Claire asked as they [Jo] paced back along the edge of the marsh.
“Is there one? I mean really, is there any way to love a person without getting the hell beaten out of it?”
Although this was made regarding another character, I found this quote to also be true to her relationship with Jo.
The one person who saves the story is Jo Gilly. As the story develops, and switches third person narrative between the three girls, Jo’s life is slowly revealed where you have nothing but sorrow for her. Yet, that sorrow turns into something else entirely when you see how strong and resilient she really is. She is the epitome of a strong female character. She has no issues about her adversity growing up, and lack of social status. The salt business is suffering, but she keeps going. It is her that fights with the bank to stay open. With one eye and a half-scarred face, she still drives around in her beat up red pickup truck with no care to what people’s opinions of her are. She keeps at the salt, living and breathing it as only a true Gilly daughter can.
Although the novel focuses around The Gilly sisters, there is another character that takes center court as well. Dee is eighteen, a high school drop-out, and a failed waitress at her father’s new diner. Dee is as two dimensional as an author can create. It isn’t so much as lacking dimension, Dee doesn’t want to be anything. Like anything at all. She rather give herself the title of slut, hate herself for it, and never change. And, then there is the creepy obsession with Claire Gilly. She is completely obsessed, wanting to know all the town gossip, listens for Claire’s horse Icicle every morning, and sneaks into her room at night when they begin to live together. It isn’t flattering, the way she goes about it. It really is creepy, especially because of a detail I have to abstain from saying. *spoiler alert*
I didn’t hate Tiffany Baker’s novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it either. It was just OK for me. I had high hopes. Although I did learn a lot about the care that goes into harvesting salt and how it is almost an exact science that takes everything you got, Claire and Dee’s story lines made me more indifferent than a content reader. The book wasn’t entirely bland, as it really picked up towards the end. My time didn’t feel as wasted when I got to around page three hundred or so. Each character came full circle within themselves and within the story line. Claire became more likable. Jo less sharp-edged and more open. Dee also changed, in the only way she could-minimally.
I may not recommend this book to anyone, but if you do stumble upon it and are slightly intrigued, I won’t advise you against it. Just know, for me, it wasn’t a fast read, or captivating enough.