Monday, August 3, 2009

Drowning Ruth - Christina Schwarz

Summary: Winter, 1919. Amanda Starkley spends her days nursing soldiers wounded in the Great War. Finding herself suddenly overwhelmed, she flees Milwaukee and retreats to her family's farm on the Nagawaukee Lake, seeking comfort with her younger sister, Mathilda, and three-year-old niece, Ruth. But very soon, Amanda comes to see that her old home is no refuge - she has carried her troubles with her. On one terrible night almost a year later, Amanda loses nearly everything that is dearest to her when her sister mysteriously disappears and is later found drowned beneath the ice that covers the lake. When Mathilda's husband comes home from the war, wounded and troubled himself, her finds that Amanda has taken charge of Ruth and the farm, assuming her responsibility with a frightening intensity. Wry and guarded, Amanda tells the story of her family in careful doses, as anxious to hide from herself as from us the secrets of her own past and of that night.
Ruth, haunted by her own memory of that fateful night, grows up under the watchful eye of her prickly and possessive aunt and gradually becomes aware of the odd events of her childhood. As she tells her own story with increasingly clarity, she reveals the mounting toll that her aunt's secrets exact from her family and everyone around her, until the heartrending truth is uncovered.

Guiding us through the lives of the Starkey women, Christina Schwarz's first novel shows her compassion and a unique understanding of American landscape and the people who live on it.
Summary taken from book, cover photo from

My Review: I first read this book about 6 years ago and remembered really enjoying it at the time yet could not recall exactly what the story encompassed. I was not disappointed in my second reading. The story centers around Ruth and her Aunt Amanda, who cared for Ruth after her mother's drowning when she was a mere three years old. There is a certain amount of mystery that surrounds this death and the story is given to you in bits and pieces, the past combining with the present.

Upon picking up the book I was transcended to a time when a tough young lady, Amanda, let her guard down for a minute and made a mistake she would spend the rest of her life paying for. With this mistake came both good things, the raising of her nieces, and bad, never getting to live her life as she had planned. The focus of the story is on the secret Amanda keeps and how she hides this knowledge at all costs. And does it ever cost both her and those surrounding her as the tale is unraveled.

Schwarz's skilled writing style makes the characters within her novel come to life. You want to slap Amanda for her selfishness but feel a great deal of empathy for her guilt and the guarded secret she must manage. Ruth's character is likewise extremely sweet and likable yet contains a sharp edge. And one can not keep from being drawn to Imogene, the first to befriend the poor outcast, Ruth. It's an all encompassing tale that lends itself to being read time and time again. It has left me longing for more of Schwarz's work.

My Rating:
4 stars

If I had to sum it up in one sentence it would be: I can not think of a more perfect summary to this novel than the renowned Walter Scott quote, "O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!"


Unknown said...

Id love this book (drowning Ruth) but alas amazon or anywhere else dont sell to Australian kindle holders.

MindySue said...

They don't?!?!? Well that just isn't FAIR!


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