Set during an unspecified time in the future, America as we know it is no more, thanks to disease-carrying Miner ticks. First they bite, then burrow under your skin to lay eggs that travel in your bloodstream as they mature, eventually erupting from your flesh to scurry away. Many ticks carry the deadly Shreve’s disease, but it takes up to two days to know if you’ve been infected. If you are, you’re left to suffer a horrible death. Anyone who doesn’t have a Stamp handy to incinerate the tick as soon as it bites (or a friend to do it for them) is going to have a really bad day… perhaps for the last time.
Now people live in zones behind the “salt line”—an area of scorched earth beyond a massive wall—in order to stay safe. People who want to risk the danger can pay an adventure company for a nature excursion beyond the salt line, after receiving crucial training on how to survive. The latest group to go on the tour are enticed by the danger of the trip, but they have no idea just how dangerous it will be. Kidnapped by people associated with a community called Ruby City, the hostages learn there is more fear out-of-zone than just the ticks. What do their captors want? And what does it have to do with them?
I don’t know which caught my attention first—the title, or the cover showing that long stretch of empty road leading away from the massive wall in the background. The blurb sealed the deal, despite the ick-factor of deadly ticks. They’re nasty little creatures, and I’m thoroughly disgusted by them, but I couldn’t let that stand in the way of what promised to be an interesting story with a unique take on how the world as we know came apart. I was willing to risk being grossed out (and I was, more than once) in order to dive into this story and see what happened.
The story is told from many different perspectives, and while that may be off-putting to those who don’t care for multiple POVs, it’s my opinion that this particular story couldn’t have been told any other way. The story would fall flat told from only one or two points of view, and the things that motivate both the hostages and the captors to do what they do is often vital to the overall story.
Of the hostages, I think it’s safe to say Marta had the most compelling story. I won’t go into why, but she’s the sort of character who thinks of herself as weak only to discover an inner strength she didn’t realize she had. Of the captors, I was most interested in Violet. There was a great deal more to her than meets the eye, and her reasons for taking part in the kidnapping scheme (once revealed) made a lot of sense to me.
I enjoyed reading the story, but there were quite a few things I (correctly) expected would happen, and it was a little disappointing to figure it out so easily. Redemption came with an unexpected twist that was so subtle, the implications of what I’d just read didn’t register for a moment, and I had to read the sentence again in order to understand. Things took an intriguing turn from there!
I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like this before. Jones’ writing is imaginative and kept my attention solidly focused on the book as I was reading. The tick scenes creeped me out completely but I was horribly fascinated by them, as well. (And yes, I did keep imagining I felt something crawling on me as I read about them… EEK!)
I’ll be watching for Jones’ next novel. After writing a book about deadly ticks, I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!
Author: Holly Goddard Jones
Title: The Salt Line
Publication Date: September 5th, 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons
About the Book
In the spirit of Station Eleven and California, award-winning novelist Holly Goddard Jones offers a literary spin on the dystopian genre with this gripping story of survival and humanity about a group of adrenaline junkies who jump -the Salt Line.-
How far will they go for their freedom–once they decide what freedom really means?
In an unspecified future, the United States’ borders have receded behind a salt line–a ring of scorched earth that protects its citizens from deadly disease-carrying ticks. Those within the zone live safe, if limited, lives in a society controlled by a common fear. Few have any reason to venture out of zone, except for the adrenaline junkies who pay a fortune to tour what’s left of nature. Those among the latest expedition include a pop star and his girlfriend, Edie; the tech giant Wes; and Marta; a seemingly simple housewife.
Once out of zone, the group find themselves at the mercy of deadly ticks–and at the center of a murderous plot. They become captives in Ruby City, a community made up of outer-zone survivors determined to protect their hardscrabble existence. As alliances and friendships shift amongst the hostages, Edie, Wes, and Marta must decide how far they are willing to go to get to the right side of the salt line.
About the Book
Holly Goddard Jones is the author of The Salt Line, The Next Time You See Me and Girl Trouble (stories). Her work has appeared in The Best American Mystery Stories, New Stories from the South, Tin House magazine, and elsewhere. She was a recipient of The Fellowship of Southern Writers’ Hillsdale Prize for Excellence in Fiction and of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. She earned her M.F.A. from Ohio State University and her B.A. from the University of Kentucky. She teaches creative writing at UNC Greensboro and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Brandon, and their children.
Author photo and bio via author’s website.