The Salt House

A Novel

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About The Book

*Real Simple “Best Books of June”
*Refinery29 “Best Beach Reads of 2017”

*Bustle.com “17 Best Debut Novels by Women in 2017”

In the tradition of Jodi Picoult and Lisa Genova, this gorgeously written, heartbreaking, yet hopeful debut set during a Maine summer traces the lives of a young family in the aftermath of tragedy.

In the coastal town of Alden, Maine, Hope and Jack Kelly have settled down to a life of wedded bliss. They have a beautiful family, a growing lobster business, and the Salt House—the dilapidated oceanfront cottage they’re renovating into their dream home. But tragedy strikes when their young daughter doesn’t wake up from her afternoon nap, taking her last breath without making a sound.

A year later, each member of the Kelly family navigates the world on their own private island of grief. Hope spends hours staring at her daughter’s ashes, unable to let go. Jack works to the point of exhaustion in an attempt to avoid his crumbling marriage. Their daughters, Jess and Kat, struggle to come to terms with the loss of their younger sister while watching their parents fall apart.

When Jack’s old rival, Ryland Finn, threatens his fishing territory, he ignites emotions that propel the Kelly family toward circumstances that will either tear them apart—or be the path to their family’s future.

Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.

Excerpt

The Salt House  1  Kat
The night Mom threw Dad out we had a dinner party at our house. We lived on the first floor of a tan two-story on the bay side of town. Mom grew up there, but on the top floor, where Grandma lived.

Mom loved to cook and play games, and Dad loved Mom, so they entertained often, or they used to at least, before Maddie. Jess and I were always included. Mom said it was because she liked having her favorite people around. “Am I one of your favorites, Hope?” Dad sometimes asked, his dark eyes drilling a hole into the back of Mom’s head. You got the sense he was holding his breath when he asked the question. It would get him a laugh and a hug, but over her shoulder, Dad wasn’t laughing. In those moments, if need had a face, it would’ve looked like Dad.

I was in charge of coats at the party. I’d sulked about that all afternoon and told Mom that carrying coats to the bedroom didn’t seem like an important job, since it was summer and who wore a coat in June?

Mom was on her knees on the kitchen floor, looking for the Crock-Pot, half her body missing inside the cabinet, the sound of pans bumping against one another ringing through the room. I heard her say something about June nights in Maine and how they sometimes had a chill to them, but when she sat back on her heels, her eyes were a little wild, and there was a dark smudge on her forehead, and still no Crock-Pot.

She looked at me and must have seen how serious I was, because she sighed and told me to go set the kids’ table then, with whatever plates I wanted, which seemed like a much better job.

That’s how Jess and I got to drink Shirley Temples in old mismatched fancy glasses, set with our best china and cloth napkins just like the adult table. It was perfect, even though Jess told me to stop calling it the kids’ table, since it was just me and her sitting there and she was almost seventeen and only home on a Saturday night because everyone except for her was on vacation somewhere else.

I kept quiet because once Jess got in one of her moods, forget it. It wasn’t worth pointing out that by everyone she meant Carly and Betsy, her two best friends, and they only visited family for a couple of weeks each summer. Betsy down to Kittery, and Carly up to Boothbay. Each one less than an hour away, which, in my opinion, didn’t count as a vacation. But Jess always had to be right, so I didn’t argue with her.

The Alfonsos arrived first. They came with their sheepdog, a hulking black-and-white thing with patches of skin peeking from where his fur should’ve been. He crept close to the floor when he walked and lowered his sad eyes like he knew he was overstepping. He’d had some sort of breakdown after Mrs. Alfonso went back to work full-time, leaving him alone in an empty house.

They got another dog so he wouldn’t be lonely, a long-haired retriever named Molly. Mrs. Alfonso said she’d never seen him so happy. Then Molly got hit by a car six months later and died. He started losing hair after that. Separation anxiety, Mrs. Alfonso told Mom, wringing her hands and sighing as she watched him hunker down under our table, his large body hitting the floor like a sack of potatoes.

So sorry for the inconvenience, Mrs. Alfonso repeated over and over. Mom shushed her and rubbed Mrs. Alfonso’s shoulder and said she understood. Sometimes, Mom said, love isn’t convenient. Mom had a big heart like that. Dad rolled his eyes but stared at Mom like he could devour her alive. I didn’t think it was whatever anxiety the doctor called it. Looked like a broken heart to me. I’d seen that before.

The Donovans and the Martins came next. The last ones in were Mom’s friend, Peggy, and a man who held out his hand to Mom and said his name was Ryland Finn, but she should call him Ry, and Mom said, “Oh, what a great name,” and waited like he might have a story about it.

But he just shrugged and glanced over her shoulder into the room behind her, as if he were searching for something he’d lost. Then nobody said anything until finally Mom said, “Well, let’s get you two introduced, shall we?”

We started with mussels in marinara sauce, one of Mom’s specialties and easy to make, since Dad brought them home from the shop whenever Jess and I asked. Dad was a lobsterman and did some shellfishing on the side, which we loved. We could never get enough steamers, mussels, and clams on the half shell. Dad said we were spoiled, ate like queens. But he winked at Mom while we dug in.

They played charades after dinner. Dad put up a fuss about playing, but Mom talked him into one round. He got To Kill a Mockingbird, and Mom thought he was acting out a horror movie. She guessed bird when he flapped his arms but finally got it when he pretended to play a harp. Dad said he should’ve done the harp bit first, since Mom was a writer and always remembered authors. Mr. Finn said he didn’t get the harp bit, and Peggy looked at him with tired eyes and said Harper Lee wrote it. Mom got up to put coffee on, and everyone looked at the couple whose turn it was next, except for Mr. Finn, who was sitting behind the group, watching Mom as she left the room. I watched Dad, watching Mr. Finn, watching Mom.

Later, in my bed, long after I should’ve been asleep, I listened to Mom and Dad clean up after everyone left. The kitchen and my bedroom shared a wall, and my dresser sat on the opposite wall from my bed, across from the kitchen doorway, its tall mirror reflecting the round table, giving me a clear view of the room. In our small house there wasn’t much I couldn’t hear.

Sometimes I loved it. Hushed voices carrying me to sleep or the noise from the television drifting in and out. Sometimes I hated it. Especially when Mom and Dad fought, their voices low and angry. Mom usually stomped off and went to bed upset. Dad never knew when he pushed his luck too far. Grandma said when it came to Mom, Dad lived with his heart on his sleeve and his head up his ass.

I heard Dad turn off the music and settle into the kitchen chair as Mom did the dishes in front of him. He was wearing what he called his dress clothes, which meant just a clean pair of jeans and a T-shirt that wasn’t stained or ripped. Dad always said he was a mess, hopeless when it came to fashion, a disaster next to Mom. She’d overheard him once and rolled her eyes at him and said, “Give me a break, James Dean. What you mean is you don’t have to do anything to look good. Unlike some of us.”

I had no idea what she was talking about until I searched James Dean on Jess’s computer, and besides the fact that Dad had dark hair and kept it short, they did sort of look alike. Except instead of a cigarette, Dad smoked cigars, and that was just once in a while and only ever outside because Mom said the smoke got stuck in the rugs and pillows and curtains, and it was bad enough that she already had to deal with the smell of fish.

Which wasn’t true, because Dad always left his boots and coat outside in the hallway and showered first thing when he got home, and I’d never smelled anything on him besides soap and the aftershave he sometimes wore.

But some days Mom acted like that. Like everything Dad did bothered her. And then she’d complain when he stayed out of her way, out on the boat for hours and hours.

Like that made any sense.

Now Dad leaned forward in his seat, and suddenly Mom was there, his arm on her waist, his forearm huge around her middle. He pulled her into his lap.

She gave a halfhearted laugh and tried to stand, but he hugged her tighter, moved her legs across his lap, and leaned back in the chair with her.

“Shh, just sit with me,” he said.

His fingertips ran the length of her thigh, and his other hand played with the black hair that hung down her back. I wanted to look away. I knew I shouldn’t be watching, but I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the mirror. Jess and I used to make silly faces when Mom and Dad kissed and hugged. I didn’t remember the last time we got the chance to do that.

“Jack, stop. Let me just finish.” Mom patted his leg and gave him a quick peck on the cheek, but her voice was high and tight, and her body looked stiff and uncomfortable on his lap.

“Leave it. I’ll finish them. I just want to sit here for a minute with my wife.”

Mom’s wrap dress had come loose, and he traced the opening with his finger. I saw her stiffen and move his hand away. She held it in her lap, where it was no longer covering her chest, and pulled her dress closed with her free hand.

“Let me finish,” she said. “Then we can go to bed together.”

I wasn’t sure if it was what she said or the way she said it, but everything changed right then. I saw it in Dad’s reflection in the mirror, the way his face went hard, the way it was most of the time.

Abby, my camp counselor who got sent home at least once a week by the recreation director with instructions to put on shorts that were not so short, told me once that she didn’t know how I could live with someone as hot as my father. But why didn’t he smile more? she’d asked me. I didn’t know what to say because he was my father, and who was I supposed to live with? I lied and said that he smiled all the time, just not at her.

Truth was, he never really smiled at anyone unless it was me or Jess or Mom. It was just the way he was.

But now he wasn’t smiling at all.

“What?” Mom asked.

“Nothing,” he muttered.

She hugged her arms across her body as if a cold wind had come through.

“I’m asking you to wait until I’m ready, and you’re upset.”

“You’re not asking me to wait,” he said. I didn’t so much hear it as read his lips. That’s how soft it came out.

Mom stared at the floor, and I heard the clock in the kitchen ticking away time.

“What does that mean?” Mom’s voice cut through the silence like a dull knife. “What do you think I’m asking?”

He shut his eyes and sighed, a long one that seemed to empty him out, the way he sank deeper into the chair. “You know what, Hope? I don’t know what I’m saying. Let’s drop it.”

“You work a hundred hours a week. You disappear out there.” She waved at the water behind our house. “But when you’re ready for me, well, sound the alarm.”

He looked at the ceiling for a minute, then back at her. He didn’t speak.

“Say something,” she said.

“You don’t want to hear it.”

“Try me, Jack. At least you’re talking instead of disappearing on that boat.”

“Disappearing? And what do you call this? This right here.”

“What right here?”

Dad shook his head, his eyes on the floor.

“What?”

He looked up, studied her. “You haven’t been ready in a year,” he said in a flat voice.

Mom stood up, and the air seemed to leave the room. “That’s not true,” she said.

“No? When was the last time we were together and you didn’t do this . . . vanishing act that you do?” His hands made a large circle in the space between them.

“Stop it,” she said, and her arms went around her body again.

Dad picked up his beer, took a swig of it, and slammed the bottle down so hard, the table shook. The noise made Mom jump. My first thought was he was going to be sorry tomorrow.

“Stop what? Trying to make love to my wife, or trying to figure out why she hates it when I touch her?”

His voice was thick and gravelly. I pulled the blanket up higher on my face. I hated that his eyes reminded me of the sheepdog’s.

Mom went to the sink, gone from my view. I heard a drawer open and the clinking of silverware.

Dad put his head in his hands. When he looked up, I saw his eyes and yanked the covers up so only a tiny sliver of space was left to see through. I knew that look.

“You had an admirer tonight,” he said calmly, as if giving her the weather. But he was watching Mom, staring at her so hard, I thought it must hurt to be on the other end of it.

“Oh, please,” she said, and muttered something under her breath I couldn’t hear.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I said I don’t need this crap.”

“What’s crap is you pretending to not notice him noticing you.”

Mom walked over to my doorway to where the light switch sat on the wall and flicked it on, as though she hadn’t been able to hear Dad without the light on.

“Him who?” she asked.

“Your new buddy Finn, that’s who.”

“Ry?”

“Ry?” he asked, pronouncing the word with force. “I didn’t realize we were using nicknames.”

“It was how he introduced himself.”

“Well, Finn, oh I’m sorry, Ry, couldn’t take his eyes off you.”

“Don’t pick a fight with me, Jack,” she warned.

But he already had. Even I knew that.

“Why did you invite him?” he asked, as if it were the craziest idea she’d ever dreamed up.

“What do you mean why did I invite him? He’s Peggy’s husband. The reason for the party was to introduce them to some of our friends.”

“I don’t want him here again,” he told her. He leaned back in the chair and crossed his legs out in front of him. He might have looked calm, but I saw his jaw pulse. “Did you hear me? They’re not allowed to come over here again.”

She was leaning against the doorframe now. I could see her face in the light. I watched as she raised her eyebrows at him and held them there, the way she did sometimes at the dinner table when Jess and I fooled around too much. Just a glance up from her plate, barely a movement at all, really, a flick of her brows, a tilt of her head. It stopped us every time.

“Allowed?” she asked. There was no sound coming from the kitchen, and then I heard her say in a voice that was high and wobbly, “Allowed?”

I leaned in closer to the mirror at the same time she moved off the wall and took two steps toward him. There was a force to her step that scared me. Dad seemed scared too and sat up quickly, pulling his legs in as if he might need them to fend her off.

“Get out,” she whispered.

Dad’s eyes closed, and I wished in that moment that by some miracle he’d suddenly fallen asleep. Mom was patient, but Dad had pushed too far. I knew this was what Grandma meant when she said Dad sometimes put his head up his ass.

The sound of a chair scraping against the tile sliced through my bedroom, and I peered out through the spaces between my spread fingers. He patted his pocket for his keys, and I rolled my eyes, embarrassed for him that he didn’t see them sitting only two feet in front of him on the kitchen table. Mom saw them, though, and snatched them up and held them in her hand under her folded arms.

“Give me the keys, Hope.”

“So you can leave here in a fit and wrap yourself around a tree?” She tightened the belt on her dress and said in a low mutter, “If I wanted you dead, I’d do it myself.”

It was a line I’d heard them use on each other all my life, always in a joking way: Mom watching Dad fillet fish with his thick bear-paw hands—Give me that knife. If I wanted you to lose a finger, I’d wait until you ticked me off and do it myself. Or Dad catching her wrestling the full barrels down to the sidewalk for the garbage pickup—Let me do that, baby. If I wanted you flat on your back, I’d put you there myself. And so on and so on and so on.

But tonight, it wasn’t a joke.

Dad stared at Mom, and then leaned in until his face was inches from her, and his voice was a growl.

“If you want me dead, keep it up. You’re doing a hell of a job.”

Mom sucked in her breath, loud and sharp, like she’d just bumped her hip bone on the edge of the table. There was a frenzy of movement, and I heard the front door open, and what sounded like Dad’s coat hit the front hall with a thwack. Mom stomped into the kitchen, and something hard hit the wall again. I looked out from under the covers just in time to see Mom launch his shoe from the kitchen, through the living room, clear through the front door, where it landed with a loud thump.

“Jesus, Hope. Calm down.” Dad snapped out of it, but it was too late.

Mom took two big strides in his direction, and there was not another sound as the door slammed shut. The house went silent.

I sat up in bed, hugged the blanket to my chest, and strained my neck to see around the corner. Mom rounded the opening and caught my eye. She let out a small noise, walked into my room, and sat on my bed. I put my head against her, pressed my cheekbone against the sharp edge of her collarbone, felt her heart pulsing on the flat part of my cheek.

She smelled like baby cream, and I wondered if she was still using the tub of Johnson’s on her arms and hands like she did after Maddie died. She’d sit on the edge of her bed and massage the thick white cream on the insides of her forearms, where the skin’s so soft, and then drop her head in her arms and rock that way until I got her for dinner. I thought it was weird. It was the same cream she used to rub on Maddie’s bottom after she changed her diaper. But a lot of things got weird after Maddie died, so I stopped thinking about it.

Mom nudged me over and sank back. I looked at Mom curled up in my bed, and I pictured Dad standing in the hallway in his socks with his coat and shoes strewn all about, and then I remembered what Mom said earlier to Mrs. Alfonso about love not being convenient.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Salt House includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lisa Duffy. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Set in the coastal town of Alden, Maine, The Salt House begins one year after Hope and Jack Kelly’s youngest daughter, Maddie, silently chokes on a necklace in her crib, taking her last breath without making a sound. Now, each member of the family—Jack, Hope, and their two surviving daughters, Kat and Jess—must navigate the world on their own private island of grief. Kat and Jess struggle to come to terms with the loss of their sister, while Jack and Hope watch their marriage crumble.

As they traverse their own rocky relationships, the return of old rivals, first crushes, and more, the family struggles to recover from the grief that clouds their every action.

Told in alternating voices, The Salt House is a layered, emotional portrait of marriage, family, friendship, and the complex intersections of love, grief, and hope.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. What is the significance of the title The Salt House? What does the Salt House mean to Jack, Hope, Jess, and Kat? How does it relate to the way the novel ends?

2. The novel begins with an epigraph from the poet Stephen Crane:

Tell her this
And more,—

That the king of the seas
Weeps too, old, helpless man.
The bustling fates
Heap his hands with corpses
Until he stands like a child
With surplus of toys.


Discuss the significance of this passage within the context of the story. Why do you think Lisa Duffy included it?

3. How did Maddie’s death change Jack and Hope’s relationship? How did it affect their relationship with their older daughters?

4. When Jess rides her bike to the Finns’ house, she has a peculiar interaction with Mr. Finn. “ ‘Tell your mother I said it was great party. And don’t forget,’ he warned, pointing his finger at me.” What was your impression of Mr. Finn? Why do you think he insisted she relay the message and sternly warned her not to forget?

5. Scattering Maddie’s ashes is a source of contention in the novel. Why does Hope feel so strongly about the ashes? Why do you think Kat is so interested in them? Do you think that such rituals offer closure and help people move through grief? How has Hope let her guilt consume her? Do you think she’s being too hard on herself?

6. Do you think Jack and Hope are right to not tell Kat the full circumstances of Maddie’s death? How does that affect Kat’s grieving process? Have you ever lied by omission to spare someone you love the full impact of the truth?

7. Jack’s best friend and business partner, Boon, is an important character in The Salt House. How does his relationship with each member of the Kelly family help them through their grief? What role have lifelong friends played in your life?

8. Discuss how Jess and Jack handle tough situations. How do they express their feelings with other people? How is that different from Kat’s way of dealing with the world?

9. Discuss how Hope and Jack’s first meeting foreshadowed how they would communicate and handle future issues in their marriage. How do the secrets Jack and Hope keep from each other affect their relationship?

10. Ryland Finn returns to Alden after decades of being gone. Has he changed in that time? Do you think that Jack treats him fairly upon his return?

11. Describe the relationships between Peggy and Ryland, and between Hope and Jack. How does Peggy and Hope’s conversation affect Hope’s perspective on her own life?

12. What role does Kat play in the novel and in her family? Consider her similarities to her grandmother, if any.

13. Why do you think Jess and Alex are attracted to one another? Describe how Jack and Ryland, separately, affect their relationship.

Enhance Your Book Club

1. The death of a loved one or relative can shift behavior and energy within a family. Read the article “10 Things I Learned While Dealing with the Death of a Loved One.” Discuss how the writer’s experiences and advice relate to the Kelly family and each person’s response to Maddie’s death. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jinna-yang/10-things-i-learned-while_b_5923558.html

2. Read this article from Parents.com about helping children to cope with divorce. Discuss the experiences that Kat and Jess go through during this difficult time in their parents’ marriage. What were the key events that shaped their understanding of the change in their family?

http://www.parents.com/parenting/divorce/coping/what-children-understand-about-divorce/

3. When Peggy has a tough conversation with Hope about her relationship with Ryland, Hope was able to look at her life from a different perspective. Describe a moment when someone shared a personal story that helped you with your own issue.

A Conversation with Lisa Duffy

Congratulations on publishing The Salt House! What was the inspiration behind the story?

I wrote the first several chapters of The Salt House quickly, and I knew it was going to be a novel. But I put it down, returning to it sporadically over the next several years. I was in graduate school, raising my three children, and working part-time, and I decided to spend my time writing short stories to learn the craft as best as I could.

When I came back to The Salt House, my father had recently passed away, and his death was horrible and tragic and unnecessary in all of the ways a self-destructive death is, and the aftermath is still something I’m wrapping my brain around. In some ways, I would say his death inspired me to write about grief. And love. And family and tragedy and heartbreak and hope.

Hope and Jack’s relationship makes a significant shift after a tragic loss. Can you share the motivation behind creating that circumstance in the story?

In those early pages, when The Salt House was just a first draft, Hope was a writer and Jack a lobsterman. That pairing just appeared on the page and I didn’t know why, but it seemed necessary to me. The more I wrote, the more it occurred to me that these two occupations, or callings, or whatever you want to call them, have innate similarities.

To be a writer or a fisherman, not just as a hobby, but as a way to put food on your table, you know going in that it’s going to be a hard way to make a living, and you’re going to have to work really, really hard and you might fail. There’s a passion that has to be there—an awareness that the story might not come together and the fish might not bite, but still you have to show up and be present and do the work.

The same applies to a marriage. So it was interesting to create two people who have similar natures—people who don’t shy away from the uncomfortable as such—and then ask them to deal with the unimaginable. In a lot of ways, I think that’s where moments of transformation can occur—those times in your life when there’s a shift and you’re suddenly no longer the person you were before, and then what happens? Who do you become, and will the person standing next to you—your wife or husband or partner—stick around while you’re trying to figure it out?

Can you share any insights about your writing process? Did you begin writing the story with a specific outcome in mind?

I’d give anything to be the type of writer who outlines and follows a sane path, and has an idea of where the story is going, an outcome in mind. My process is similar to E. L. Doctorow’s observation that writing a novel is like driving at night in the fog: I can only see as far as the headlights, and I make the whole trip that way. The first draft is hell. But I build as I go in that draft. Every day I’ll reread what I wrote the day before and revise. Then I’ll move on to the next chapter. I’m not a messy first-draft writer, and when I’m done, I need to add rather than take away. When the draft is done, I’ll print it out and arrange each chapter on a table, and revise chapter by chapter, and then line by line. This is what I most enjoy, the revision process. I wrote The Salt House at my dining room table, and for years, every inch of it was covered in stapled chapters, lined up in rows. Then it was suddenly empty, and book two was just a blinking cursor. That’s the hard part. Once the story is on the page, the real fun begins.

Do you have any similarities with any of the characters in the story?

Probably Barbara, the grandmother, in that I love quotations. I have journals and books full of them, dating back to when I was a teenager. They’re taped to my computer and walls and in frames around my house. And I like to say them to people as well, but, unlike Barbara in the novel, I bungle them. I get it from my mother. It’s a family joke—that we both love quotes and idioms, but we massacre them. It’s probably even more comical that I know this about myself and yet I still go there—drawn to idioms in conversation like bugs to a lamp. That’s what I wrote before I googled it. The correct saying is moths to a flame. I spend a good part of my day telling my kids, “Oh, you know what I mean!”

Did you have to do any research on the behavior and work of a fisherman?

I had an experience early on in my research that helped set the tone for some aspects of the novel. There was a particular lobsterman in Mid Coast Maine who I found online after he did some events with a local fiction writer. I thought he might be willing to talk to me, and I tried to get in touch with him for months, with no response. I finally asked the writer if she could facilitate an introduction, and she politely said, he’s never going to talk to you. Not only was I “from away,” but the fishing community had suffered some recent controversy with shootings and boats being sunk, so my chances getting anyone to talk to me were slim to none.

This writer turned out to be enormously helpful with some of my questions, but the fact that the lobsterman wouldn’t talk to me was more informative than any questions I could have possibly asked him.

I also read a ton of fiction and nonfiction on the subject, and my husband worked on a lobster boat when he was younger, and was in the Merchant Marine for years, so he helped immensely with the boat details.

Do you have any personal connection with the sea or with the coast of Maine?

I grew up in a triple-decker just twelve miles outside of Boston, but I feel most at home by the water. The north shore beaches—Wingaersheek and Good Harbor and Crane—were the beaches of my childhood. There’s something intriguing and magical to me about a coastline that is at once so breathtaking and utilitarian.

One of my clearest memories is of a scorching summer day when I was young and we were at a small neighborhood beach in Rockport. I say beach, but there was no sand, just a bunch of rocks at the edge of the water. It was so hot and humid you could barely breathe and the water was just freezing—a numbing cold—but a bunch of us were swimming because what else can you do, and suddenly this guy popped up next to us, literally from the depths, and he had on a full wet suit, face mask, and everything, and in his hands was a lobster trap. I don’t know if his boat was broken or he just felt like diving to fish, but I think I fell in love right there with the water that was both unforgivingly cold yet fruitful.

Years later, my mother bought a house on the Maine coast, and I’ve spent a good deal of time there, in all seasons. When I was writing The Salt House, I won a scholarship from the Salty Quill Writers Retreat for Women, and they gave me a room and meals in a stunning historic house for a week on a private island three miles off the coast of Maine. This writing gig doesn’t come with a whole lot of perks. That one was enough for a lifetime.

Are you currently writing anything? What can you tell us about it?

I’m working on my next novel, and I can’t say too much about it because it’s still in that headlights-in-the-fog stage. But, in broad strokes, it’s set in a New England working- class town, and will tackle similar themes of loss and relationships and family.

About The Author

Photograph © Tom Wheble

Lisa Duffy is the author of This is Home and The Salt House. Lisa received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts. Her short fiction was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and her writing can be found in numerous publications, including Writer’s Digest. She is the founding editor of ROAR, a literary journal supporting women in the arts. The Salt House was named by Real Simple as a Best Book of the Month upon its June release, as well as one of Bustle’s Best Debut Novels by Women in 2017, a She Reads Book Club selection and Refinery 29’s Best Beach Reads of 2017. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and three children and currently leads a fiction workshop through 24PearlStreet, the online component of The Fine Art Work Center in Provincetown.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Touchstone (June 2017)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501156557

Raves and Reviews

“A poignant story of the power of faith, hope, and love to transcend loss.”

– Kirkus Reviews

The Salt House, Lisa Duffy’s fine debut novel, is a compelling examination of grief and the way loss threatens the lives of every family member. Though all the characters are vivid and memorable, I am especially drawn to the younger voices as they maneuver in the uncharted wake of their parents, attempting normal lives under conditions that are anything but.”

– Jill McCorkle, New York Times bestselling author of Life After Life

“One of the best human portraits I’ve read in a novel—Lisa Duffy’s The Salt House masterfully depicts a family stuck in the cracks of unhealed wounds and profiles complex behavior with stunning clarity. You’ll need to make room on your keeper shelf for this beautiful debut.” 

– Therese Walsh, author of The Moon Sisters

 “Lisa Duffy has burst on the scene with this at once heartbreaking and life affirming debut. A lyrical and beautifully written story about love, loss, forgiveness and moving forward, The Salt House confirms that Lisa Duffy is one to watch.”

– Kristy Woodson Harvey, author of Lies and Other Acts of Love

"Lisa Duffy paints a realistic and heart-wrenching portrait of a family trying to move on from an unimaginable loss. Emotionally complex and as atmospheric as the rocky Maine shores where the story is set, The Salt House reels you in and doesn't let go until the final, satisfying page." 

– Kristin Contino, author of The Legacy of Us

"[A] touching novel."

– RealSimple.com

"Duffy eloquently displays the emotional complexities of a family going through the healing process. Readers of Elin Hilderbrand or Luanne Rice will enjoy."

– Library Journal

“This insightful, emotionally potent debut is ideal for fans of Amy Hatvany.”

– Booklist

The Salt House is a portrait of a family in distress. Lisa Duffy explores marriage, family and friendship and the psychology of grief. Impeccably written, The Salt House is a heart-stopping story. Full of emotions, it will grip all your attention.”

– The Washington Book Review

"Duffy writes with sharp insight about the troubled hearts of all her characters.... lean, sharp prose that sweeps the story along. “The Salt House” is a marvelous debut novel.

– Portland Press Herald

"A fine novel about a family deal with loss."

– Providence Journal

“If you don’t mind a good cry, The Salt House by Lisa Duffy follows a family in Maine picking up the pieces after a tragedy shakes their entire world.”

– EliteDaily.com

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