SALTWATER by Jessica Andrews


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A young woman lays bare her memories in a fragmented debut.

“It begins with our bodies. Skin on Skin. My body burst from yours. Safe together in the violent dark and yet already there are spaces beginning to open between us,” begins Andrews’ debut novel: a meditation on mother-daughter relationships and finding a place to call home. The coming-of-age story is told from the perspective of Lucy, a millennial trying to navigate her present while examining her past. Present-day Lucy lives in her late grandfather’s cottage in Ireland, where she recounts her memories of childhood in northern England. In short vignettes, she remembers the absence of her alcoholic father, the experience of learning to communicate with her deaf brother, and the way her beautiful mother struggled to keep everyone (including herself) together. She also recounts her wild youth, her university experience in London, and the litany of unnamed men who circle her. Lucy’s thoughts constantly return to her mother—the first and great love of her life—and their relationship, which has become strained over the years. As a child, she thought: “I would forever be in her orbit, moving towards her and pulling away while she quietly controlled the tides, anchoring me to something.” The natural untethering that happens between mothers and daughters is remarkably rendered—the heartsickness given gravitas equal to romantic relationships. Andrews is undoubtedly a talented writer, but this book seems more concerned with sentence-level beauty than narrative. The lovely minutiae of the vignettes sometimes overshadow or crowd out the book’s larger themes. Despite this, Andrews’ writing explores themes like memory, home, womanhood, and mother-daughter relationships with shattering clarity: “Girls with orange cheeks in push-up bras brushed past us, smelling of the future” and “that safe, yellow space of bedtimes and steamy kitchens.”

A beautifully written experimental novel that lacks narrative momentum.

Pub Date: Jan. 14th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-374-25380-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2019


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