“You Have to Hold Some Space for Yourself”: Every River Runs to Salt by Rachael K. Jones

“According to a three-year study published in Scientific Reports Friday, the mass known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is about 1.6 million square kilometers in size — up to 16 times bigger than previous estimates. That makes it more than double the size of Texas.”

When Imani becomes angry about the Pacific Garbage Patch and how no one is paying attention to its growing size, she steals the Pacific Ocean and carries it home in a jar.

The Pacific Ocean is sorely missed.

So sorely missed, in fact, that California, a surfer bro with washboard abs, comes looking for it. As does Oregon, and Washington, Hypotheticals who embody their inhabitants’ characteristics in a menacing way. They curse Imani with gifts in order to make her return the ocean.

“Let me tell you something about the Pacific. Fill your lungs with it just once, and all your responsibilities will dissolve, and you’ll waltz drunken circles with the surf in your arms. Try this on for size: the gift of abandon.”


 All of the Hypotheticals are deeply in love with the Pacific. How could you not be? So much water, so much abundance. So fundamental to their existence.

When Imani flees to the Under Ath, a mythical sewer world of discarded trash and waste, mirroring the creation of the Pacific Garbage Patch, Imani’s best friend, Quietly, pursues her. 

In the hands of an unskilled writer, this might be a terrible book, but Rachael K. Jones manages all of the demands of the impossible with ease. 

How can you hold an ocean in a jar? What does it mean to drink it, to have 63 languages, “most of them dead” swirling in your mind? To have its endless borders pushing at all the seams of you?

Inhabiting a place means taking a piece of it with you. For me, the Atlantic beats in my heart, constantly assaulting the shore with its icy waters, and the great north woods of Maine, with its endlessly calling crows, crickets, lakes and streams, it’s long, icy winters hardening me. They inhabit my body as much as a place possibly can. 

This novel, then, is for the people who might not understand, or acknowledge the gift nature gives and keeps giving to us all. The people like Stephens, who rules the Under-Ath, feeding off people’s desires and addictions, who captures Imani and uses her for his own purposes, taking all that abundance of the Pacific for himself. 

How can you take the time to protect something that isn’t a part of you? How can you fight an endless machine like Stephens, who is filled to the brim with the endless armies of the swirling, devouring insects of capitalism, to conserve nature?

Take a long, salty drink of your piece of nature, breathe the smell of pines or redwoods, then fight for its purity, for its sanctity, before someone like Stephens comes along and takes it all for themselves. 

If you don’t have time to do that, read Every River Runs to Salt Jones’ beautiful prose waltzes across impossibilities, a secret dance you’ll want to keep all to yourself. Books like this are why magical realism and weird fiction exist. 

Every River Runs to Salt is a book you can fight for, just like the Pacific, or your favorite piece of nature. Press it into the hands of a young person, or maybe just leave it on a shelf for them to discover.

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