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Set in rural North Carolina, Isabel Zuber's debut novel, SALT,
examines the complexities of family through the story of one woman.
Anna Maud Stockton is a spirited and imaginative girl who spends
her days exploring the woods and mountains and entertaining her
older sister with fantastic stories. Her childhood home is filled
with a quiet drama, from her father's war stories to her mother's
herbal remedies and German songs. As the 19th century gives way to
the 20th and Anna grows into a young woman, she is full of promise.
Her intellect is fostered by books, games, and true friendships,
and her heart is opened by her first love. But soon her romantic
dreams and visions of the future are forever altered by a series of
events that lead her into early marriage and motherhood. Anna's
marriage to John Bayley, twice a widower, is the relationship upon
which the novel turns. The stories of the couple's parents,
children, friends, and community illustrate the simple pleasures
and subtle losses of daily life.

Still imaginative and yearning for intellectual challenge, in her
grown up life Anna instead finds comfort in friends, secret trips
to the library, and a scrapbook of poetry. Over time she loses
friends and family to death and distance, grows apart from her
husband, watches her children grow up and her parents grow old. The
novel continues after Anna's death, and the loss of the central
character provides an opportunity to examine family legacies and

Zuber's style brings a sense of romance and idealism to the harsh
life of turn of the century farmers and laborers. Her lyricism is
displayed through Anna's dreams, stories, and imaginings. Anna, as
a character, has so much potential. She is interesting and original
in many regards. Yet her individuality, creativity, and strength
are never fully realized. She remains confined, and even her
occasional rebellions and risks are done within her safety zone.
Zuber's novel tells the story of an intelligent and adventurous
woman trapped in the mundane world of raising children and growing
crops, and while the realism of Zuber's plot can be appreciated, it
seems conflicted with the poetry of her language and the spirit of
her heroine.

SALT is peppered with interesting threads, including animal myths,
wild forest dwelling couples, a mysterious bearded man, and a
chance romantic encounter on a train. But Zuber discards each too
easily, and the ramifications of each event are dismissed, leaving
the novel feeling incomplete. Even Anna's most daring act is
downplayed; the impetus and consequences never fully explored. If
only Zuber could have brought Anna's wild imagination to actuality
instead of repressing it and relegating it to a sporadic and
inconsistent escapism.

SALT is a poetic, if predictable, novel. It is gentler than much
contemporary fiction of the American South and at times verges on
the mystical. Anna is an admirable and likable character, and her
story is one worthy of telling. The characters are genuine, and
Zuber has succeeded in creating a moving portrayal of daily life
and common lifetimes. However, the novel fails to take certain
risks. Perhaps with Zuber's next novel she will challenge herself
and her readers by pushing her characters further and finally
unleashing the full potential of her mystical, mythical

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 23, 2011

by Isabel Zuber

  • Publication Date: March 6, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312281331
  • ISBN-13: 9780312281335