Saturday, March 5, 2016

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

I've been missing my historical fiction, so I was glad to pull this off my bookshelf and dive into it.  Of course I read Water for Elephants years ago; if I remember correctly, I even read the hardcover on the way to Chicago to visit a museum exhibit with my sister Pam.  I did attempt to read this book when it first came out, but I admit I tried and just didn't get into it.  

Now, a year later, it's in paperback, and I forgot I'd tried to read it before and bought the paperback last month.  I think the cover is so striking you can't help but pick it up.  So glad the publisher kept the same cover from the hardcover version to the paperback.  What drew me to this book, besides the cover?  Well, the Loch Ness Monster, of course.  If it's a book that involves anything "mysterious", I'm ready to read.  

There were many comments I've read about this story in which people were disappointed and unimpressed.  I, however, am happy to say I found it a compelling read and had a hard time being patient when work and other tasks (sleep) kept me away from it.  No, there isn't a lot of action in this novel, but instead it is the growth of Maddie's spirit that moves the storyline.  

Maddie is a young woman married to Ellis Hyde, the son of a prosperous Philadelphia man and his socially conscious wife.  They can't stand Maddie, who's mother, while rich, was known as a beautiful flirt, and a crazy one at that.  Unhappily married to Maddie's father, she made Maddie's life hell, and poor Maddie grew up completely unloved by either parent.  She thought she'd found love with Ellis, but was vaguely dissatisfied with her young marriage, and terrified of her mother-in-law and her obvious disdain for Maddie.  Ellis and his best pal Hank are two men who have been kept out of World War 2 by color-blindness (Ellis) and flat feet (Hank).  They spend their days in Philadelphia sleeping away nights of drinking and partying, with no cares in the world.  Soon enough, Ellis makes a giant drunken mistake at a party, and his parents kick him and Maddie out of their home, leaving them with lots of luggage and little else.  In a desperate bid to redeem himself, Ellis decides they will travel to Scotland--in the middle of World War 2--and find the Loch Ness monster.  Ellis' father had years previously done the same thing, and had been humiliated after claiming proof of the monster's existence.

With nowhere to go, Maddie travels to Scotland with Ellis and Hank.  Their reception in a remote village on the banks of the loch is chilly and they aren't made very welcome.  Maddie, stuck at the inn while Ellis and Hank go off in attempts to spot the monster, slowly begins to form friendships with the women who help at the inn:  Anna and Meg.  And there is the mysterious Angus, who runs the inn.  How is he connected to the headstone in the local cemetery, which bears the sad dates of a baby and mother who died just a few months apart?  

The main point of this novel is the evolution of Maddie, who comes to Scotland a cowed and unsure young woman with no control over her life and at the mercy of other people.  Her relationship with her husband undergoes a dramatic turn, and as Maddie finds out, sometimes monsters are all around us.  World War 2 is a big part of this novel, but mostly in the food rations and night time air raids Maddie experiences.  And of course, there is the suspicion by all that Ellis and Hank are perfectly health for combat, and are actually cowards.  You'll have to read At the Water's Edge to get the whole story!

Rating: 7/10 for a solid story about one woman's search for herself set against the wilds of Scotland and World War 2.  The Loch Ness monster is a background character, but adds a few surprising twists to the story.  I would recommend this as a good book club read. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio book. 


  1. I've been wanting to read this one for a while but have heard mixed reviews so I keep putting it off. Glad to hear of your review.

    1. I was the same way Jillian! But then I decided to read it since I loved Water for Elephants. It wasn't quite what I expected, but I liked it and was glad I ignored the naysayers and read it anyway.

  2. I am glad you mentioned that suspicion about Ellis and Hank. My dad had flat feet and very bad vision but he was still drafted for WWII. In fact, he worked on an army base in Philadelphia! He did not see action but taught classes to soldiers.