Carin Clevidence’s debut novel, The House on Salt Hay Road (Picador), isn’t a fast-paced beach read. Its rewards require patience. I honestly didn’t get into the story until about halfway through the 285 pages of this paperback.
Family is the theme of this book, with a brother-and-sister relationship at the core. The siblings, Clayton and Nancy, are orphans taken in by their aunt, uncle, and grandfather, and they live on Fire Island in New York. It’s a provincial setting that Nancy can’t wait to escape, and she takes her chance by saying yes to a visiting ornithologist’s marriage proposal. She moves away to Boston, and a rift forms in the family when her little brother refuses to go with her. Her rebelliousness soon fades into homesickness when she starts having marital troubles, and she puts her marriage on hold to seize the opportunity to return to Fire Island when she finds out her grandfather is ill.
Salt Hay begins with an accidental explosion at a fireworks factory and ends with a violent coastal storm, the message being that the unexpected happens, and man-made and natural circumstances can pull a family apart. “It was only after something broke into its individual parts that you saw how miraculous the whole had been, how fragile,” Clevidence writes.
She has created a lovely novel with clear, poetic prose. Its triumph is delivering the simple, enduring truth of how love can prevail and bring strength to fragility.