1. Josie, the protagonist of The Taste of Salt, is deeply tied to two places: Cleveland, Ohio, her birthplace, and Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where she makes her life and work. She has very different relationships to each place. Discuss the ways in which the two places differ from each another. To what extent do they function as characters in the novel?
2. Josie's father, Ray, and her brother, Tick, both struggle with alcoholism and other addictions. Does Josie harbor any addictions of her own?
3. While there is alcoholism in the African American community, as in any other community in the United States, relatively few memoirs or novels have been published about it. Why do you think that might be the case?
4. The author uses an interweaving narrative in which each of the six major characters speaks periodically and Josie serves as a kind of overarching consciousness going in and out of various characters' lives. Other novels that have taken this approach to a greater or lesser degree in recent years are Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex and Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Why do you think Southgate uses this narrative approach?
5. Josie struggles with both the family she came from and her conflicting feelings about being one of the only black scientists in her milieu. Why might successful people try to leave their past (and their families) behind? Do you think it's ever possible to do that?
6. On page 130, Josie says that she doesn't want to "fit the stereotype of black girl with a no 'count brother." Do you think there is such a stereotype? What do you think of Josie's comment and of the way it bonds her to her friend Maren?
7. The characters in the Henderson family have wildly varying reactions to the culture and tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous. What do you think of their range of responses? Are you familiar with the organization? If you are, what are your feelings about it?
Read O's review of The Taste of Salt
See which books made O's 2011 fall reading list