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Salthill by Judith Barnes

Pub Date:

 

 

 

Salthill
A Novel
Judith Barnes

St. Martins Press
October, 2002
Hardcover/0 pages
ISBN: 0312290187
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". . . an original and complex work"

". . . wonderful descriptions of British Columbia . . . intense action scenes"

1946 British Columbia–A caustic belligerent black youth, known only as Harris, walks out of obscurity and is virtually adopted by Grey St. Oegger, gentleman rancher and father of three. At 19, Harris is an expert horse trainer, a gift St. Oegger recognizes and cultivates in spite of the violence the young man’s presence engenders. Elysa, at 11, visibly desires Harris while her father regards him with affectionate admiration.

 

 

 

 

Salthill is an original and complex work which seems to fit no genre and makes summary a challenge. Writing from the collective perspective, first-time novelist Judith Barnes never quite establishes whose story is being told in the many-sided narrative.

 

Part One jerks the reader back in time almost as often as it plows forward, providing a limited history of each of the characters but a lack of continuity makes it difficult to identify with, or feel empathy for, any one character.

 

Part Two is set in 1951 with Elysa returning to the ranch from school. At sixteen, she completes Harris’ seduction and he is now a man obsessed. Their affair continues over the summer—in the house with Grey. Elysa loves the danger of loving Harris but clearly thinks because her father also loves him, he will let them marry. But the passionate interlude ends in banishment—Elysa, by her own choice, to art school; Harris, driven from the only place he’s known love and acceptance in his young life, not by Grey but by the housekeeper.

 

Part Three finds another six years gone. Harris has wandered in the wilderness of whiskey and women and stumbles quite innocently upon a portrait of a child that can only be his son—painted by the woman who must be his mother, Elysa. He forces a meeting and once more they come together, telling their separate stories to each other until they see there is but one solution to their dilemma—a solution that brings everyone together at Salthill again.

 

Ms. Barnes delivers wonderful descriptions of British Columbia and the intense action scenes move the reader swiftly from violence to lust and back. There is pleasant reading in the obsessive sexual tension and the examination of the many faces of love, but much of the plot leaves this reader a bit puzzled. It will be interesting to see this new writer''s next work.

Reviewer: Amy E. Lane