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In this beautifully crafted debut novel, poet Isabel Zuber deftly traces the joys and the sorrows of a passionate but troubled marriage in Appalachia at the turn of the last century.

Anna Stockton was a bright and imaginative child, reveling in a rare wild freedom in the mountains of western North Carolina. As a young woman possessed by romantic yearnings and a great love of books, she hungers for a new kind of life for herself. John Bayley is a hard-driven hill farmer who ...

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New York, New York, U.S.A. 2002 Hardcover New 0312281331. FLAWLESS COPY, AVOID WEEKS OF DELAY ELSEWHERE. --clean and crisp, tight and bright pages, with no writing or markings ... to the text. Read more Show Less

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Salt: A Novel

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In this beautifully crafted debut novel, poet Isabel Zuber deftly traces the joys and the sorrows of a passionate but troubled marriage in Appalachia at the turn of the last century.

Anna Stockton was a bright and imaginative child, reveling in a rare wild freedom in the mountains of western North Carolina. As a young woman possessed by romantic yearnings and a great love of books, she hungers for a new kind of life for herself. John Bayley is a hard-driven hill farmer who carries with him the pain of the early death of his father and the loss of two previous wives. When a sudden encounter brings the two together, Anna and John marry into a difficult and passionate union, one that mirrors the changing, sometimes violent, and often haunted times in which they live.

Turning her jeweler's eye upon the members of a small rural community, Isabel Zuber weaves together the lives of John and Anna's family and friends in a deeply moving account of exultation and despair, of grief and ghosts. A novel worthy of the element that gives it its name—an emblem of work and sacrifice as well as of blessing and preservation—Salt is entrancing, piercingly honest fiction that gazes deeply into the human heart and yields the wisdom that such scrutiny brings.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The lyric cadences of Zuber's prose and her tender evocation of the landscape and atmosphere of her native region have much to do with the emotional richness of her touching account of one woman's inner awakening."—Publishers Weekly

"Genuine through and through—authoritative even—and it is beautifully, often brilliantly, done. It deserves to be showered with prizes."—Fred Chappell

"Salt is a big, beautiful book. There is something very, very special about this novel, something almost indefinable, like Kristin Lavrandsdotter. I loved reading it."—Lee Smith

Besty Groban
...sweeping first novel...Zuber gets the historical details right, and her characters' emotions...are handled just as deftly.
The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
In a beautifully conceived and gracefully executed first novel about one woman's life in the American South at the turn of the 20th century, poet Zuber (Oriflamb) imagines a community that is still following patterns and behaviors established 100 years before. Central to her portrait are the relationships between Anna Maud Stockton Bayley, her adulterous, twice-married husband, John, and their offspring. Forced into marriage after John seduces her, Anna makes the best of it, sewing, gardening and keeping house in the small town of Faith, N.C. Still, she dreams of music, singing, travel and love. But single-minded John, who is avid to increase his land, children and stock, is less interested in his young wife's desires than his own personal gain. Leading up to the tempestuous marriage, the plot moves at a slow waltz, with Zuber lovingly establishing even minor characters. But the pace picks up once Zuber expresses the frustration that clouds Anna's life: her longing for knowledge and romance and her conviction that her children should receive an education. Researched with an eye to domestic detail, the narrative offers a realistic portrait of a woman's daily tasks in the late 19th and early 20th century, when there were "bedticks to empty, scrub and restuff with new straw twice a year" and little else to which a married woman could aspire. Tragically, the one instance of romance in Anna's life is her undoing. The lyric cadences of Zuber's prose and her tender evocation of the landscape and atmosphere of her native region have much to do with the emotional richness of her touching account of one woman's inner awakening. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In the recent tradition of Robert Morgan's Gap Creek, though lacking the grinding poverty of that novel, Salt follows the life of a young woman at the turn of the 20th century. Anna Maud Stockton Bayley leaves her remote North Carolina home to be a serving girl for the wealthy Alba family in Asheville and glimpses the troubles and richness of their very different lives. After returning home, she settles in as the third wife of a widower with young children and begins a family of her own. In her first novel, poet Zuber (Winter's Exile) tells Anna's story with remarkable fullness, liberally sprinkling the text with quotations about salt (e.g., "Spilt salt is never all gathered") to add spice. Anna's struggles with her family and her philandering husband should find an appreciative audience. Recommended for public libraries. Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A first novel by poet Zuber is a wistful, postdiluvian tale of southern rural longing without the rich, creeping detail that might make it worth the while of readers of Faulkner and McCullers. In true romance fashion, Roland Bayley, whose mother was a longtime, well-loved inhabitant of Faith, North Carolina, returns with his young family in 1932 to discover mysterious, undelivered love letters to her written decades before. Who was Anna Stockton Bayley, a woman who abandoned her dreams of learning about the wider world when impregnated, in 1897, by the brutish, twice-widowed farmer John Bayley, and settled into farm life in Faith a half century before to raise Roland and his passel of siblings? The backstory that ensues feels listless because obligatory, as well as tedious in its familiarity: a poor, young, strong-working, rosy-faced girl is hired as a servant by the wealthy Alba family in a neighboring town, where Anna learns about music and culture and is even proposed to by the son of her employer. Eventually, she's spotted by a stern, hard-drinking, ambitious widower who resolves to change his life if Anna will marry him-and even if she says no ("There're things I want to know about"), she has to because she's carrying his baby. And so it goes through the years: the babies who come one after the other, the accretion by John of land or property or wealth, and the gradual wearying away of love and need between the two. Even Anna's one moment of rebellion (a three-day affair in middle-age with a man she meets on a train) arrives too late to summon any needed vitality into this plainspoken, salt-of -the-earth, no-surprises narrative. A novel's worth is in the details, Flaubert might say,and Zuber's curiously dispassionate southern family history is as generic as they come.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312281335
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 3/6/2002
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.64 (w) x 8.64 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Isabel Zuber is the author of two collections of poetry, Oriflamb and Winter’s Exile. She lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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Read an Excerpt


FAITH, 1932

The moles, he noticed, had made a progress and left ridges between the graves, even tunneled right over them. His grandfather would have been out with castor beans and poisons, his father with his steel trap jammed down above the little animal runs, set and poised to fall like a miniature portcullis, spiking the unwary. Roland smiled. It amused him to think that in this case the moles were having the last say in the matter.

Other than the mole runs, all was in order in the cemetery, grass cut, weeds pulled, markers upright. All that could be done was done. He could go. His mother had once commented that the place seemed a gracious, inviting spot and that it made her think of music. He had no idea why she would feel that way about an ordinary graveyard. She was a mystery to him.

Roland lived in town now, was married, and taught at the college. But he was one, as his acquaintances and relatives would tell him, who had not gotten above his raising. His visits to Faith were fairly regular, first to the cemetery, then to the store, then on to other calls as his quest or an invitation took him.

Sherwood, the longtime store owner, sat in a morris chair by the front window, so bulky and seemingly immobile that Roland could picture him sitting there all through the night watching the road for wrongdoing and misadventures. The man was past remembering all of the community happenings to tell Roland and repeated some of those he had told him before. Still he would usually think to say, "It's too bad about John, your dad," though sometimes he forgot that too. His elderly niece did nearly all the store's work now while Sherwoodobserved comings and goings. Her reactions to Roland were not predictable. She could nearly fawn over him. "And how is your dear lady wife these days, why don't you bring her to see us?" Or she could scowl at Roland and look sour when he came in and if there was no one to serve she would go into the stockroom and stay until he left.

Today Sherwood did remember something.

"Eli's boy has something for you. Told me to tell you to stop by."

This was to be a scowling day. The niece's expression seemed to say, You will have to tell him. She headed for the stockroom.



ELI'S "BOY." CARL, was the age of Roland's father but still running the post office, as his father had before him.

"But maybe not for much longer," he told Roland. "They've gotten to consolidating everything, schools, post offices, and who knows what else, maybe places themselves. We could lose our souls." He picked up a stack of the circulars, calendars, and catalogs that his patrons left behind and moved them from one end of the narrow table under the window to the other. The table and just such a stack, the mailboxes, and all of the post office supplies had been in the little low room on the Younces' porch for as far back as Roland could remember. Carl was a puttering-around man like his father, but he seemed far less sly.

Eli Younce, Roland's father used to say, had hidden out during the war from the rebels and Union folks alike, especially the Confederate Home Guard. He had a secret hiding place dug out under his house that couldn't be seen even from the cellar and he'd hole up in there with a jar of water, or something much stronger, whenever recruiters were about. As a child Roland had thought of that frightening gravelike place as being built exactly like a coffin and under the floorboards of the post office room he himself trod, though of course it would have been at the earlier Younce house.

"There was no fight in him," John Bayley would say. But there seemed to have been plenty of deviousness.



"HE HAD THEM squirreled away," Carl said. "I didn't find them until long after he passed. There was some more mail besides, but I don't know what's become of the other folks." He looked over Roland's shoulder. "Didn't seem right to throw them out, you being so close by and here so often."

"Thank you," said Roland. "I wonder why he didn't forward them."

"Maybe he didn't know your address after you moved."

Fifteen old-fashioned small envelopes, nearly square, addressed to his mother and postmarked years earlier. As he handled them Roland wondered if they had been steamed open and resealed. Did not know the address? Letters had come to them from Faith. No way not to have known. He thought his hand might shake. He'd not expected anything like this.

"Or maybe he thought she'd be back and he'd give them to her."

I bet. "Anyway, thanks again. I appreciate your holding on to them and letting me know.

"I thought you ought to have them but I don't want no danger to his reputation. You understand? Our being cousins and all?"

"Of course."



THINKING ABOUT ELI and his odd craftiness, Roland wandered off, following Cove Creek down to where the man had once lived. It seemed an appropriate place for secrets.

The Younce family's old homesite on the creek bend was marked now only by two stone chimneys, the low foundation wall, and the cellar hole. No house had been rebuilt on the place after the fire. Eli had long before moved closer in to the community when he became postmaster and let the place out to rent. Tall weeds and a tree or two were growing within the crumbling masonry.

The house had been burnt down when Roland was a boy by a storekeeper rival of Sherwood's who was a stranger to Faith, an oddsoul who never did well there. The man had also stolen Roland's father's horse but was never caught and punished for either the theft or the arson.

Below the ruin was a narrow wooden footbridge across the stream. Roland sat down on it, dangling his feet over the brown water. He opened the envelopes.

They contained love letters to his mother, postmarked from two places out West he had never heard of, signed only with the initial M, letters from a man who, though he tried to joke and make light of trials now and then, was clearly lonely and unhappy to the bone, making his way by himself.

I know you said not to write, would not even give me your address. All I know is the name of that little place where you once lived. Perhaps this will reach you if they send it on. I cannot help it. I am without companions here and think of your sweet face all the time. Heaven and earth would not be too great a price if we could be together ... .

I think of you fondly. Yours, in the sure and precious hope that we shall meet again to be parted never. M.

He had no idea who had written them. Possibly someone his mother had known when she lived and worked in town before she was married, someone who had loved her long ago.

Would she have wanted to see these foolish things? Should she have seen them? There was a great deal he didn't know about his mother.

The letters were much the same, and all ended the same way, except the last.

None of my letters to you have been returned to me and I have sent my address. I have no way of knowing if you ever received any of them and I've not had one from you. I write this last time to tell you that I'm to be married to a Mrs. Bonham, Ellie, a homesteader in her own right, with land that lies next to mine.She is a widow with two small sons. So it seems I shall be a family man after all.

I remember you with great fondness. Yours in the hope that, since probably not again in this world, we may meet in the next.

Roland looked at the water for a while, then tore the letters into little squares and watched them float away downstream like a laundry of tiny handkerchiefs.



bread and salt



On a bright, breezy day children run up the mountainside through the tall sweet grasses, cross circles of soft ferns, run so hard it takes their breath, so fast their small bare feet scarcely touch the ground. They scream back at the hawks overhead, waving their arms. They sing to meadowlarks nesting among the weeds. They wave stern swords and stick flowers behind their ears.

They have been running there always. Look for them.

SALT. Copyright © 2002 by Isabel Zuber. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Picador, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2012

    Great Read

    This book is filled with rich detail. I highly recommend it!

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  • Posted March 17, 2011

    not a good read

    strange..... not an easy story to follow. would not recommend it!

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