At the Water’s Edge by bestselling author of Water For Elephants Sara Gruen is a novel of romance, adventure, and history. The book takes place in the midst of World War Two in Philadelphia and then in Scotland as a high society love triangle comprised of the narrator Maddie, her husband Ellis, and their mutual best friend Hank head on in search of the Loch Ness monster.
Ellis and Hank both have purported ailments that have kept them from enlisting in the war: Ellis is color blind and Hank is flat footed. The two men are so shamed by their inability to enlist that they decide to head to Scotland to find and film the Loch Ness monster and prove themselves heroic. Maddie is forced to come along since she has nothing in Philadelphia but a mother-in-law who wants to dissolve her son’s marriage and a father who wants nothing to do with her.
So, the three head to Scotland and check into a local inn where we meet more of the novel’s characters including Anna, Meg, and Angus. From here the story spins into tangents of monster hunting, Maddie’s slow acclamation to life outside of her china walls, and a love affair that develops only very late in the novel. Ellis and Hank, though most especially Ellis, turn out to be entirely dreadful human beings who are not only careless, but conniving, evil, and abusive. Much of the novel is spent describing the ways in which Ellis talks down to Maddie, tries to physically abuse her and emotionally berates her for what he sees as her imperfections. Frustratingly, Maddie does nothing to stand up for herself, and though this is a period piece set in a time when men did have the power to commit their wives to mental institutions, it is entirely maddening to watch Ellis dominate his wife and for Maddie to fall into patterns that reassure Ellis’ behavior.
There is definitely an air of melodrama in the book as well with Maddie constantly fainting, becoming woozy, or needing a man to save her from distress. There are few strong female characters at all in fact. Meg still pines over her boyfriend after he beats her nearly dead for wearing a pair of silk stockings that he assumes Meg slept with someone to obtain, while all of the women passively wait to be married and disappear into their respective husbands. Once again, the time period of the piece must be taken into account when trying to understand Gruen’s intention drawing such characters, but it is no less defeating for readers.
It is difficult to be surrounded by a hoard of characters for which the reader develops little sympathy because of their obnoxious behavior. The plot and all of the tangential subplots, however, are arresting and intriguing in a way that allows the reader to overlook potential frustrations in the novel’s characters. Being primarily plot driven, At the Water’s Edge will most definitely prove to be another blockbuster once a film is made.
At the Water’s Edge is slated for release from Random House Publishing on March 31, 2015. You can preorder a copy of the book here.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.