Duffy captures the drama of a family caught in grief after losing a beloved baby girl. Maddie leaves an empty space in each heart, especially her mother, Hope, who discovered her. Jack, a lobsterman, spends long days on the water, returning home each night to find his wife unable to escape the sadness that envelops her. Jess, sixteen, and Kat, eight, watch their parents closely, sensing the distance growing between them. Each misses her baby sister, craving the continuity of daily life, worried that the loss of Maddie might mean the loss of their family. While Jack buries himself in work, Hope relives the tragedy, wondering what she could have done differently. While this drama unfolds, the family members relate their stories against a backdrop of a small Maine fishing town.
Hope’s grief is at the heart of this tale, each other character looking to her, monitoring her emotional state. Jack suffers the most for his inability to alleviate her suffering, bearing as well the burden of caring for his traps to provide a good catch, their financial situation growing more precarious without Hope working. They had purchased the Salt House for the five of them, a symbol of the future. Now Hope is talking about selling the house, too many memories of Maddie. It’s the last place she wants to see.
Each character has a part in keeping the family together, each privately experiencing loss, each learning the intricate shape of grief, the way it can alter the whole, the wounds inflicted and the inability to find resolution. Duffy’s characters are beautifully drawn, each working through the changed form of their family: Kat trying to retain the memory of her baby sister’s face; Jess seeking isolation but finding comfort in a new friendship; Hope aware of her family’s needs but unable to break free of her consuming grief; and Jack, relentless in his efforts to stay afloat financially while dealing with a past tragedy that he has always kept a secret.
This is a comforting novel, great tragedy offset by love and mutual concern, their innocence shattered, their dreams tarnished. There are no magic solutions, no wounds too deep to remedy, the road home littered with mistakes and disappointment. The Salt House, once a symbol of the future, waits patiently for a family to remember where they belong,
with Maddie in their hearts.