Kit Kittredge Reviews “The Price of Salt; or, Carol”

Greetings and salutations from your friendly founder, Maggie Williams-Shepherd, dear readers!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first issue of Perspectives, the newsrag for all the cool cats in the know. Feel free to tell your friends of friends about us. As the last few pages draw near, I feel the need to add something more, to give this magazine that personal perspective you may be looking for. After all, where would the circus be without its ringleader? It’s my duty to draw the curtains closed with a fitting conclusion, to fill you with a sense of hope and contentment that, perhaps, you haven’t felt in some time. Quite frankly, that’s a lot to ask of a book report, but, nonetheless, I’ll try.

Launching Perspectives wasn’t my idea, to be honest with you. The idea came from  an important woman in my life — arguably, the most important person in my life. There’s this undeniable vibrancy and innovation flowing through her veins. Nothing — no tragedy, no mistake or misstep, ever seems to get her down. She’s fanciful like that, but level-headed, too, and remarkably perceptive. That’s where she got the idea for Perspectives in the first place. She could tell there was a part of me that yearned for connection, not just with others, but with others like me.

On some level, this is true. You don’t make a lot of friends being the only woman wearing pants in the newsroom. If the paper didn’t need me so bad, I’m sure my 80-year-old boss would’ve run for the hills the moment he saw my crew cut.

So, sure, I’d like to make friends with others like me. Others who drift through life with the same sort of… vibe, for lack of a better word. Others who knew what it was like to be me. Others who could know me. Really, truly know me. 

I’m not sure precisely what I mean when I say “know me.” But then again, don’t I? Don’t I?

Anyhow, once my dear friend realized how lonely I’d became,  she drummed up a few ways to help. One of those suggestions became Perspectives: the opportunity to run a publication of my own. For once,I could decide what to print. And I could do it with my closest friend. I didn’t know when –or even if — I’d ever see a chance like this again. 

And, so, Perspectives was born. You really have “Ruth” to thank for making this publication possible. From hunting down writers and illustrators to composing a few pieces herself, she became the gears that made project turn. 

I’ve already mentioned that I’m a journalist — and, if I may toot my own horn, I’m one of the best in Cincinnati. I’m used to covering hard-hitting stories about the most pressing of topics. You won’t be surprised to learn that the news for folks like us is downright depressing; I’d rather not dwell on it here. I cover sports, too, when I can, but since Cincinnati has yet to join the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, I haven’t got a teamful of women to wax poetic about. And so, when it came to the question of what I myself might contribute to Perspectives, I found myself stuck for quite some time. 

In the end, I returned to my first love: reading. What follows is my review of Claire Morgan’s novel The Price of Salt.

The Price of Salt details the story of Therese Belivet and Carol Aird, two women from two different worlds,  shopkeep and shopper, who become entangled in each other’s lives.

Now, let me assure you: I’ve walked the revolving door of lesbian pulp before. I’ve got a general idea of what these stories are like. There’s scandal, sex, and, of course, the inevitable death, destitution, or mental ward awaiting every suffering Sappho under the sun. I’ve heard it over and over again. The last thing I want to read about is a miserable fate befalling someone like myself.

I simply don’t understand why these stories all end the same way. I mean, I’m not daft. I know why. But still: why? Why, really? It’s just not fair. I don’t care how childish I sound. Who decided “tomboy” was a term reserved for girls under the age of twelve, anyhow? Does wearing trousers really merit a death sentence? Should I be shipped to a padded cell for owning a collection of baseball cards? Why did my mother agonize so over my distaste for the color pink? 

She taught me, from a young age, that it was a crime for girls like me to exist in the real world. Such a shame that fantasy follows suit.

So let’s just say that I wasn’t looking forward to another book full of lesbians languishing in misery when I could be reading  about quite literally anything else. As I made my way through The Price of Salt, I did what I could to detach myself.

But then, something both miraculous and unfortunate happened.

How could I not find myself caring for such figures? To be whisked away to a present yet distant Christmastime, featuring a woman like myself with more interest in books and model train sets than dolls and men, who finds herself surrounded by eccentric and vaguely bohemian theater people, and, at the end of it all, finds Carol.

Of course it had to be Carol. It was always Carol. Who else was there for her to find?

What started as a book I’d only give a cursory glance became a book I devoured. It’s not my usual fare — I prefer action and adventure — but there is, I admit, some intrigue in the plot, which kept me captivated even when I felt as though my heart was breaking.

There’s this young lady, Therese Belivet, who works the toy section’s cash register, but naturally dreams of bigger things. And then there’s Carol Aird, a classy and elegant woman who, at first glance, seems to have it all.. It’s remarkable that these two women find each other at all, to be honest. It’s a chance collision, like me only ever  meeting my best friend because she lived in the same neighborhood as me. And we were both so grateful to have found each other, even though we never considered we had something to be grateful for. That’s just how things had always been with us.

It’s the same for Therese and Carol. Now that they’ve found something certain, they want to keep that certainty close to the vest. Every scene of theirs is charged with… something. Some underlying want, some need. Therese even remarks upon it: “It was so easy for a man and woman to find each other, to find someone who would do, but for her to have found Carol…”

There’s something about this book that feels uniquely painful to me. It may just be me and all the complexes I’ve developed in my thirty or so years of life., But take this passage, for instance: “Was it love or wasn’t it that she felt for Carol? And how absurd it was that she didn’t even know. She had heard about girls falling in love, and she knew what kind of people they were and what they looked like. Neither she nor Carol looked like that. Yet the way she felt about Carol passed all the tests for love and fitted all the descriptions.” I can’t help but feel like the book is describing not justCarol, but somebody else. Somebody who I happen to know very well.

Maybe it’s because I latched onto Therese in the beginning and assigned roles from there. But it’s uncanny, really, how much this lines up with my friend. With my Carol, if you will.

I don’t know how personal I’m really willing to get here. She’s going to read this sooner or later. I just can’t help but see these things.

I mean, sure, her aspirations are closer to Therese’s, but I see a lot of Carol in her. Maybe more elegance than I should in somebody I’ve known since I was 6; I’ve seen her clocked in the head with a baseball more times than I can count and snore in a movie theater during an especially boring picture, but that was then. We were kids. Nobody’s expecting a kid to be elegant. But, that was then. She is now.

When outsiders look at Carol and Therese, they see a coldness there, a distance.  Because when you see the story from the outside, it’s nothing more than a glance here or there, but inside that little world of theirs, those people, they couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve never seen such realistic warmth between two women on the page. Sure, I’ve seen scorching, scandalous sex. I’ve seen bitter, catty rivalries. But this is  genuine warmth. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to real companionship in a story like this. 

There’s this warmth that comes from the chance meeting of someone just like you, no matter how different they seem to be. You may know in an instant how similar you two really are, or it could take decade. But the ability to explore such an intimacy is something I welcome with open arms. 

To think that I’ve experienced even the tiniest bit of such a love from my Carol, the kindest soul I know, and my best friend… well, I’ll just have to let Claire Morgan tell you how it feels: 

Carol raised her hand slowly and brushed her hair back, once on either side, and Therese smiled because the gesture was Carol, and it was Carol she loved and would always love. Oh, in a different way now because she was a different person, and it was like meeting Carol all over again, but it was still Carol and no one else. It would be Carol, in a thousand cities, a thousand houses, in foreign lands where they would go together, in heaven and in hell. Therese waited. Then as she was about to go to her, Carol saw her, seemed to stare at her incredulously a moment while Therese watched the slow smile growing, before her arm lifted suddenly, her hand waved a quick, eager greeting that Therese had never seen before. Therese walked toward her.

The novel itself is stunning. I recommend it to anybody looking for the happy ending they deserve to find in fiction, even if they can’t, or don’t, know where to find it in the real world. Maybe we’re still unheard of, unspeakable. Maybe the world is still saying we don’t have a place within it. Maybe being a tomboy is worthy of a death sentence.

But this book makes me think it’s the world that’s wrong, not us. The Price of Salt says we might be lonely, lost, scattered to the winds, but we still have the capacity to find others just like us. Find people who love us, just like this. People who know us in a glance, as strangers, more than our own families. Finding love, finding friends, finding a community where we belong — it’s not so unrealistic, is it? Who’s to say? It may have already happened somewhere in this wide world of ours. It could happen to you. It could even happen to me and my Carol.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Margaret “Maggie” William-Shepherd lives out her days in a cramped Cincinnati apartment with her best friend and roommate, “Ruth.” She spends her time reporting for a local paper, working on “Perspectives,” and watching her roommate’s theatre productions. 

Ruth was found to be fond of Maggie’s comparison of themselves to Carol and Therese. Together, they founded and edit “Perspectives,” which they hope will run for years to come.

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