June 2010

Tracing a family’s complicated past

By Carin Clevidence
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Early in her debut novel, The House on Salt Hay Road, Carin Clevidence presents an image of the titular dwelling floating down a river on a barge. Likewise, the house on Salt Hay Road seems to follow its inhabitants throughout their lives, floating in the back of their minds like a dream, as Clevidence explores the tricky nature of family and the long-lasting power of home.

Twelve-year-old Clayton and 19-year-old Nancy have lived with their grandfather, Scudder, and aunt and uncle on Salt Hay Road since their mother’s death seven years ago. While Clayton loves everything about their marshy seaside surroundings, Nancy longs for something else. When she impulsively marries and leaves for Boston, resentments between family members gradually begin to take shape. Clayton is angry at Nancy’s new husband for taking his sister away, and he ignores her pleas to follow them to Boston; Nancy is hurt both by Clayton’s choice to remain at home and by the support his decision receives from the rest of the family. Meanwhile, Scudder stubbornly disowns Nancy, feeling betrayed by her departure.

As the family struggles with their estrangements over several years, the 1938 New England hurricane and Clayton’s departure for the Navy demonstrate to each of them just how their time together on Salt Hay Road has shaped them. At the heart of the novel is Nancy and Clayton’s love for each other—two orphans who drifted into a new home together at tender ages, and whose growing pains temporarily blind them to how much they truly need each other.

Clevidence’s movements are subtle as she quietly illuminates her characters’ motivations. Revealed slowly, each figure is brought to life through his or her memories. In this way, a snapshot emerges of a family cracked, but enduring. Gracefully, Clevidence’s depiction of familial bonds shows us the lasting marks left on us by those who raised us, those we have raised and the places that served as our foundations.

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