one of those books you hold in your hand long after the last page
is digested. Its one of those stories that stays in your heart
for days after the book find its home again upon the wood of a bookshelf.
The taste of Drowning Ruth
lingers quietly, reminding you
of its poetic saga.
Because of writer
Christina Schwarz and the gravity of her first novel, readers are
welcomed into a world of deception, young love, big choices, and
a past that always
comes back to haunt its owner. The author
does this wisely, without hints or clues as to what each crisp page
will bring us. Yet she grabs each reader, and makes each word fuel
for a hungry intrigued soul. The plot is serendipitous. One moment
its heading one direction, a page later, we are sent hurling
to a whole other dimensions with questions we demand be answered.
Questions for each character in this startling novel. Ruth, the
young girl we see grow up from a young child cared for by her mentally
challenged aunt. We see Carl, her father, a man with many questions
of his own that he struggles to even ask.
As with any book,
we want to be lured in. We want the impression of something we just
cant figure out. We want the writer to create a mirage that
we just cant get close enough to seeChristina Schwarz
does just that. From the beginning pages we can see that this novel
isnt going to be just like the rest. From the first chapter
we are able to see glimpses of a story so unlike all the others
weve read. A task not so easily accomplished. Beginning with
the first page and continuing to the last, Christina Schwarz satisfies
the needs of restless minds everywhere.
The novel takes
place in the period from the close of the First World War, around
1917, through the late 1930s, before the beginning of the Second
World War. The setting is rural Wisconsin near the Great Lakes,
the nearest being Lake Superior, a frightening place that has swallowed
many a huge boat. Ms. Schwarz describes this Wisconsin town so well
the reader can almost feel the bitter winter wind as her characters
travel through the pages.
The small town
and farm where Ruth grows up with her Aunt Amanda, and her father
Carl, and their handyman Rudy, has its own small lake that is described
as very beautiful, like a sapphire in the summers when the sky is
blue, beautiful enough that eventuallyabout midway through
the bookmuch of the land around the lake is sold as resort
property to newly rich families from the cities. Ruth's family property,
a working farm on the opposite shore, includes an island that Amanda,
all her life, has regarded as her own special place. This island,
as we soon find out, is the centerpiece around which the whole novel
rotates. The promise it holds, the secrets it eventually keeps,
and the sadness each character will soon associate with this piece
of family history.
of this small town and its lake is disturbed, and not by the intrusion
of the newly rich. They come in during summertime only, blundering
and innocent, to a place where families like Amanda's long ago learned
to live with the ominousness of harsh winters and the heaviness
of their secrets. There are certain things people don't tell, they
grow up knowing they mustn't, they don't need to be taught, they
breathe it in with the air. You don't tell, not even if it drives
you mad. The summer visitors, by contrast, are like children, with
no more understanding of what goes on around them than the summer
child Arthur, who discovered Ruth's mother drowned under the ice
of the lake when he was only five years old. Arthur's father, Clement
Owen, a developer, inventor, and blunderer without peer, is first
to see the possibilities of the lake as a resort propertyand
through one of those coincidences that happen in real life even
more often than they do in books, Owen happens to have known Ruth's
Aunt Amanda before. He called her Amy. She was a pretty nurse then,
in a city hospital during the War. When Amanda returned to the family
farm she certainly thought she would never see him again, and he
thought the same. Arthur's father didn't know his Amy lived on the
other side of the lake.
moves constantly from the voice of one character to another, and
shifts back and forth in time and place with disturbing frequency;
yet somehow you always know where you are and who is speaking. Christina
Schwarz style and consistency is simple yet astounding; even
though the reader is seeing the story through so many different
eyes, its never hard to understand. The reader never has to
question the feeling or emotional message the writer is trying to
get across. This, any reader or writer knows, isnt the easiest
thing to do.
with the slush of spring. She was light, buoyant even, and yet when
the midwife first shifted the tiny bundle into his arms he felt
as if he might drop her, so heavy was she with helplessness, with
the need to be protected at all costs." This description of
Carl, Ruths father, is dripping with meaning, of substance,
and of something far more than even these words can present. This
is just a small taste of the writing that simply drips with meaning
and of fear the reader can expect throughout the whole novel.The
plot, roughly, is about the coming of age of Ruth, who once drowned.
Yet this is really a novel about the burden and consequences of
keeping secrets, in families, and in towns, and in one's own heart.
takes the reader by the hand and walks through
the lives of these characters and the impact of a secret so heavy
with angst that their lives are changed forever.