Josephine is one of very few black women in the field of marine biology. She's also the product of a troubled family -- both her father and her brother are alcoholics. Everything about her life has set her up for solitude and she's okay with that: she herself states that she's not sure she has enough love to give. It's not an uncommon response to the kinds of family troubles that Joseie has experienced -- distance yourself from people and they can't hurt you the way others have hurt you in the past. As the book opens, Josie is picking her brother up from his second stint in rehab. Josie intends to hand responsibility for her brother off to her mother in Cleveland then head back to her job and husband in Massachusetts. Southgate then swings the narration into the past, giving the reader insight into Josie's childhood, her parents' troubled marriage, and and the berth of her brother's disease before examining how those events affect present-day Josie's behavior.
Unfortunately, the characters never really grew beyond two dimensions for me and I wasn't a fan of Southgate's shifting narrative. The book was mostly told from Josie's point of view, first-person, but then it would switch to her brother or her parents for a chapter before going back to Josie as an omniscient narrator describing them. I get that Southgate was trying to present a broader perspective, but it really only took me out of the story. The first time she switched, Southgate set it up for us by having Josie announce that she was taking on her mother's voice, imagining what might have been said and reconstructing events -- it felt like reading the Warnings Meant to Avoid Lawsuits at the beginning of memoirs and it just didn't work for me.
I give Southgate credit for writing about middle-class African Americans and for addressing addiction in an honest, frank way, but Josie just didn't resonate with me the way I had hoped.