After my disavowal of all Christian fiction, I have begun slowly and systematically reading it. As you would probably assume, I don’t have a lot of Christian fiction on my bookshelves, but there was one book…
I received it in my stocking several Christmas’ ago, read it for about five minutes before setting it on my shelf for five years. However, now that the genre interests me, I remembered vaguely that there was a decent quip from Library Journal on the back cover. The Salt Garden, by Cindy Martineusen, follows the lives of three women, all different in age and in some ways, all from different times. The story revolves around the cold, breezy, coastal town of Harper’s Bay and the scene opens as Sophia, an old, reclusive author, walks along the wintry beach and discovers a ledger, obviously decades old and only now released from the depths of the sea.
The second character to enter the story is that of Claire, an ambitious twenty-something who is stranded in the town of her youth when her car breaks down during a quick weekend visit to her parents.
The third woman is Josephine, a beautiful and tragic woman who washes ashore at Harper’s Bay one fateful night during a shipwreck…one hundred years ago.
Martinusen deftly handles the overused setting, making it beautiful and wild and preventing it from becoming the painting hanging over your bed at the Super8 Motel. The shipwreck is terrifying and monumental, the lighthouse becomes as permanent fixture in your gaze as it would to the locals of Harper’s Bay, and the sea is a character in itself, leaving an impact on the plot and the characters of the story.
Another thing that Martinusen handles with care and yet some earnestness, is the spiritual journey of her characters. Their paths have all crossed the point of conversion, but instead of being stodgy, perfect little Christian women, these are women with flaws, with passions, with real life problems. You watch Sophia battle her fear, Claire work through her wanderlust, Josephine overcome a life of regret. It’s moving and yet not heavy-handed.
The very best part of the book is the relationship that Sophia has with Ben, the lighthouse keeper and her childhood friend. He loves her and she loves him not.
Oh…I lied. The very, VERY best part of the book is when Martinusen describes Sophia’s homemade cinnamon rolls. It will make you hunt down your closest elderly woman neighbor and hold her down at gunpoint for a batch. I seriously thought I could smell the cinnamon as I read through that section.
This wasn’t the best book in the world or the most meaningful, but it was well written, had solid spiritual content, and was worth it’s place on my shelf and undeserving of the five years it sat unopened. Swing by my house sometime and I’ll lend you my copy.