Title: At the Water's Edge
Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical fiction, adult fiction
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.
After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.
This book makes me so angry, but that's what makes it good! Gruen transplants the irresponsible elite of 1940s America to Scotland, where they hope to reclaim their honor and manliness and parental acceptance and all of that good stuff. Instead, we see just how petty and elitist these people are. While Maddie grows throughout the novel, I don't think she quite redeems herself from her past. I know I was supposed to empathize with poor little Maddie and her traumatic childhood, but honestly I didn't think her past justified her present actions. I didn't like any of the three main characters, but I couldn't stop reading. It's like watching a train wreck happen before your eyes, and it's oddly fascinating to see just how low people can go in their selfish pursuit of their dreams. The ending was a little too neat for my liking, but this was still an enjoyable historical novel set in world war II.
*A free e-copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley*