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The Gilly Salt Sisters Hardcover – March 14, 2012
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"A heartfelt tale of family relationships, small-town drama, and new opportunities. Jo and Claire are well-drawn, finely crafted characters, and Baker adeptly describes the fractious and multilayered relationship the sisters have with one another. The imagery of Cape Cod is gorgeously rendered, leaving the reader with a fully immersive picture of the insular village. Loyal readers of Anita Shreve, Maeve Binchy, and Alice Hoffman should enjoy this poignant, lush, and well-written tale of family secrets, revenge, forgiveness, and connections not easily severed."―Stephanie Turza, Booklist
"Fans of Baker's acclaimed The Little Giant of Aberdeen County won't be disappointed with this quirky, complex, and original tale. It is also sure to enchant readers who enjoy Alice Hoffman and other authors of magical realism."―Nancy Fontaine, Library Journal
"Tiffany Baker's novel has grit and polish and some salt of its own. It's a beautifully written tale about the resourceful and determined connection of women. The Gilly Salt sisters are a brackish bunch-definitely my kind of people."―Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader and The Map of True Places
Praise for The Gilly Salt Sisters:
"Tiffany Baker has done it again: The Gilly Salt Sisters is both deliciously, magically, strange and heartrendingly familiar, a beautiful and bewitching story of the elements that bind us to each other-family, love, loss, and memory. I was pulled into its world on the very first page and wanted to stay forever."―Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters
"Like a delicious meal, Tiffany Baker offers up a wonderful blend of devastating family secrets, loves lost and found, revenge, forgiveness, and more than a pinch of long-held family magic."―Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic's Daughter and The Wolves of Andover
"The Gilly Salt Sisters captivates from its opening paragraph-a story of rivalry, love, and unredeemable greed set against a Cape Cod salt marsh that demands hard work and gives luck (good and bad) in return. Baker's scenes and characters are rich and compelling, touched with a magical realism which, like salt, enhances their flavor. Fans of Alice Hoffman will rejoice at finding Tiffany Baker."―Erica Bauermeister, author of The School of Essential Ingredients
About the Author
Tiffany Baker is the author of The Gilly Salt Sisters and The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, which was a New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle bestseller. She holds an MFA (creative writing) and a PhD (Victorian Literature) from UC Irvine, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children.
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There is a lot of terrific and subtle symbolism throughout as well, the biggest being the salt marshes which surround and trap the Gilly sisters in its opaque muck, life giving and smothering at the same time. Jo loves the marshes as much as her sister Claire hates them. When Mama dies, Jo stays to continue drying the salt out of the ocean water for a living, while Claire grabs the first opportunity to leave the family farm and forget everything and everybody about her family. However, neither can avoid each other completely in the small Cape Cod village of Prospect after Claire marries the richest man in town, Whit Turner, and moves into his mansion a few miles outside of Prospect (a metasymbolic name, I think). But Turner's secret passion as well as a pact made by the Gilly's mother decades before unravels the estrangement in time.
Stirring their unsettled anxieties is a lack of certainty whether the sisters practice a witchcraft of foretelling the future or if the salt can give its possessors a clarity, which seemed similar to the thought experiment about Schrödinger's cat, where a cat, a container of poison, and something radioactive are placed in a sealed box. If radioactivity is detected (i.e. a single atom decaying), the container shatters. The poison kills the cat. Quantum mechanics says the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead, depending on when quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other. (Thank you Wikipedia.) Something about Baker's description of what the town believes about buying the salt reminded me of this experiment. Apparently the salt can catalyze the future, collapsing the possibilities and focusing fate.
The writing is fabulous and promises much. The plot, at first, also promises to lead to either a deep exploration of the human condition or a romance in the old fashioned sense of the 19th century type, using current terminology and set in the present. However, to me, the story unexpectedly went pfffffft! like a balloon slowly emptying of air, mostly because it starts out with the impression of being a LARGE metafiction, but instead it ends up being, 'well that's life, isn't it?' We start out sure we're meant for great things due to mystical omens which point in certain directions and family predictions, but it turns out maybe the future is not so much about fate, or even if it is fate, s*** happens, and it's a smaller world and less important than you thought and there you are.
It's still a decent read. The writing is definitely five star. However the plot and the characters do not live up to the magic created by the words. Jo makes the most consistent strong impression on me and rings true. The way the small village functions also felt real to me.
But Claire makes no sense at all, killing people as if she is a psychopath. She is treated by the author as if she is merely an immature and willful girl, a thoughtless being who is too impulsive. Really? I didn't think so. I suppose she was fulfilling the role of 'Force of Nature' or 'the gods' - a Nemesis - who haphazardly determine the fate of our protagonists, much like the characters' fates in 'The Iliad' were determined by the wagering Greek gods gambling on who would survive the sword fights around Troy. Claire functions like a pair of dice, tossed into the occasional storm winds which blew in from the ocean.
In the end, I was a little disappointed - the mysteries turned out to be meh, the bad guys were a touch too dumb to be a terrible source of anxiety and the magic wasn't as potent as advertised.
I guess that IS life, isn't it?
Make no mistake, the Gilly sisters are interesting characters and the town is sprinkled with interesting characters though I do wish some of the ones we were introduced to had more coverage.
I gave this book three stars because it is beautifully written, I just wish someone had pointed out to Ms. Baker some inconsistencies in timeline and in character development.
What I liked: I always love to learn something in a book and in this one I learned about salt farming. The descriptions of the town and the Massachusetts coast were beautiful--I've been there and could picture towns I've visited with their weathered weariness facing down the salty water and wind. Beautifully done.
The characters... interesting. I found no characters to like. I really wanted to like somebody and just didn't. Anytime I started to empathize with a character they up and did something I couldn't get past.
Let me just say again--DARK. If that's what you are in the mood to read, you will probably enjoy this. I couldn't.