"It was only after something broke into its individual parts that you saw how miraculous the whole had been, how fragile. He should have known this from all the sketches he’d made of dead things that had once been living."The House on Salt Hay Road by Carin Clevidence begins with an explosion, a fireworks factory goes up in flames in a seaside town during 1937 creating a bang that is heard all around. Clayton Poole hears it while in school and rushes to make sure his older sister Nancy is okay. When the explosion happens Nancy's horse spooked but she is soon more interested in the stranger she meets when she goes to see her aunt Mavis than returning home. But the explosion itself is just the beginning, as everything begins to change for Clayton and Nancy, two orphans who have been taken in by their aunt, uncle and grandfather. When Nancy leaves their house on Salt Hay Road for Boston and her marriage, Clayton decides not to follow. But if they thought the fireworks explosion or Nancy's marriage turned their world upside down it is nothing compared to what nature has in store for them the following year.
For a book that begins with an explosion, The House on Salt Hay Road is best categorized by its quiet strength. Clevidence manages to poetically capture the essence of the small town in the years leading up to World War II, as well as the youthfulness of her main characters. As real and strong as Nancy and Clayton are, their aunt Mavis, uncle Roy and grandfather Scudder are equally powerfully drawn. As they reflect on their youth and the passing years, the readers gets to know them one anecdote at a time. The story itself is told fairly slowly, building like a wave until it eventually boils over with a powerful and heartbreaking climax.
The House on Salt Hay Road is not a book you can rush reading, and it took me quite a bit longer than I thought it would considering it is under 300 pages. Clevidence pulls you into the story and you want to linger on each sentence, slowly digesting it. It is honestly one of those novels where I could not find a single word out of place, it is clear that each one was thoughtfully chosen and edited with the result being smooth, crisp, and beautiful prose. The only criticism I can make is that I occasionally found there were too many names used in the novel, particularly when the character didn't reappear later it seemed unnecessary.
Talented writing aside, there are also some interesting discussions which go on in The House on Salt Hay Road, particularly when it comes to God, and especially with regards to the character of Mavis whose faith is unshattered despite the struggles she has gone through. At one point she says:
"It seemed to her that God intended to peel the earth back like a scab. As if, beneath its hardness, something tender and new had been forming all this time."Scudder also goes into detail with a tragic story of how he lost his faith. Scudder's fear at losing his granddaughter Nancy to a marriage that feels sudden, as well as his grief at the death of Nancy and Clayton's mother who was also his daughter, was absolutely heart-breaking to read about. I am in awe of how well Clevidence managed to capture characters on both ends of the age spectrum, and my only wish was that there had been more of Scudder and his best friend the Captain, who mostly vanish about two thirds through the novel. Although the reasons for their disappearance are both understandable and crucial to the story development, I definitely missed them. There were so many moments that touched my heart in this book, Clayton's adventures capturing bugs and feeding the birds at the local museum in particular come to mind. Overall, I completely recommend The House on Salt Hay Road, a powerful yet quiet debut from Clevidence, who's next novel I will certainly be picking up.
Release Date: May 25th, 2010
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