Everything about this novel tastes of salt, briny, coarse, fine, and as omnipresent as the Cape Cod sky, the harsh demands of Salt Creek Farm, the fortunes of the nearby town of Prospect, and the Gilly sisters, Joanna and Claire. A long history of secrets builds a gulf between the Turner and Gilly families, Ida Turner and her son, Whit, Sarah Gilly and her daughters. Joanna’s twin brother claimed by the salt and its mysterious power over the land’s inhabitants, the farm is home only to females.
Joanna readily accepts her circumscribed life on the farm, working tirelessly beside her mother though secretly nursing a friendship with Whit Turner since childhood. The younger Claire is repulsed by her surroundings, dreaming only of escape from a life that has leeched the color from her mother under a relentless scorching sun. In contrast to Jo’s dark hair and eyes, Claire is white-skinned, her flame-red hair like fire ready to ignite, a symbol of the discontent banked in her restless soul.
Theirs is an existence of endless lessons. Claire, rebellious by nature, is in love with the son of a local fisherman. When Ethan rejects Claire for the priesthood, the heartbroken girl’s rage breaks free, the consequences tragic and lasting, creating a rift between sisters that becomes more entrenched in time: “She didn’t desire love, at least not until it caught her by surprise, opening up a greed in her so gaping and huge that she became a thief just to fill it.” Impulsively, Claire marries, a union that cements the pain between the siblings: Claire has married Whit Turner.
As the salt defines the estranged Gilly sisters, Ida Turner’s greed infects her son, who covets Salt Creek Farm in spite of his own success in business. What Claire has done in haste, she has ample time to regret, from her anger toward Ethan to a flawed perception of her husband, a fire that ends in grief, an enmity born of rebellion and rage, the salt calling to Claire, home sometimes the only place of solace.
Building her finely structured story on a fragile foundation of memory and desire, Baker captures the soul of a family in crisis, the deep ties of blood and the weight of family history. Two distinct individuals--Jo the stalwart and reliable, Claire the selfish and headstrong--these opposites find perfect harmony in their differences and similarities, facing finally a common threat, an angry man denied what he wants.
Richly atmospheric and filled with imagery, the multi-colored salt basins, Claire’s hair flying like a red flag as she gallops on her white horse, a nubile young woman trapped in the foolishness of desire for an untrustworthy man, a barn in flames. This is the story of the Gilly sisters, how they lost their way and learned that secrets are sometimes best left buried, the salt healing even the most disfiguring of wounds.