The Salt God's Daughter/Ilie Ruby: Reflections

Monday, June 25, 2012

A few weeks ago, Jillian Cantor, a novelist and friend, mentioned Ilie Ruby and her new book The Salt God's Daughter to me in a Facebook message.  It was, Jillian said, one of the best books she'd read in a very long time, and she was rooting for it.  And so when Ilie herself wrote and offered me an early look at the book, I of course said yes.

I'm so happy that I did.

Readers of this blog know that I am a gigantic fan of Marilynne Robinson and Housekeeping—its vivid attention to place and details, its evocation of lonesomeness and ache in two sisters who lose their mother too soon.  With its lush and outrageously unexpected particulars (about the sea and sea lions, about the artificial waterfalls that disguise man-made drilling platforms, about all varieties of moons, about bougainvillea blooms, about the old hotel that becomes a home and salve), Ilie's book put me in a Housekeeping state of mind, as did her wonderful Ruthie, whose story this primarily is.  Ruthie is one of two sisters.  She and Dolly lose their mother—mercurial, poetic, forever vanishing—precipitously.  They are shuffled here to there, and in the process they grow wild.  They will be hurt, especially Ruthie, by the savage greed of others.

And then Ruthie meets the love of her life.

Ruthie's man is not like regular men, however.  He spends a lot of time at sea.  His textures are slightly different, and so are his eyes, and when Ruthie becomes pregnant with his child, the slight strangeness that has permeated these pages morphs into something tangibly odd, deliberately magical.  Enough so that those who one day meet Ruthie's daughter, Naida, begin to call her Frog Witch.

The Salt God's Daughter is ripe with tides and moons, the smell of ocean, the lingering sensation of pink petals and blue nights.  It's luxuriant writing, thoughtful, pleasingly moody, rustled through with wind.  Yet, no matter how surreal the story becomes, it offers real places, true landscapes, every day truth.  I share my favorite paragraph:
A good death could make everyone feel better about your life. When Saul Green died, Mrs. Green tied a light blue ribbon around the thin green trunk of the Sentry Palm in the courtyard.  Those who passed by it would recognize the symbol of gift, a sign that reminded you to notice the gifts all around you, mostly the ones that faded into the landscape of your life. Mr. Green considered himself exceptionally lucky and he told his wife every day.  This, she said, was the mark of a good marriage—when both partners considered themselves lucky because of the other.  But more, when they acted on the gratitude they felt  This had nothing to do with giving presents.  This had everything to do with the gift of awareness.  If you could do this, your partner would always feel as if your life together was a gift.


bermudaonion said...

I read Ilie's first book and thought it was wonderful so I'm not surprised you loved this.

Valorie Grace Hallinan said...

What a wonderful review! I will add this book to my list!

Anonymous said...

I'm adding this to my list.

Elizabeth said...

Thank you for writing such a multi layered review that wasn't a regurgitation of the plot, that made me feel like I was already attached to the characters, and that wasn't bogged down by rhetoric or fluff.

This has been on my to-read list for quite some time. I came across your review because I saw your review posted on Jessica Keener's fb page. She's a wonderful friend o Her debut novel, "Night Swim" was really quite something!

You also introduced me to several new authors. Thank you. I'm excited about fully exploring your blog.

Elizabeth (Danzig Teck)

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