Tuesday, March 31, 2015

At the Water's Edge

Title:  At the Water's Edge
Author:  Sara Gruen
Publication Information:  Spiegel & Grau. 2015. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0385523238 / 978-0385523233

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The headstone was modest and hewn of black granite, granite being one of the few things never in short supply in Glenurquhart, even during the present difficulty."

Favorite Quote:  "...what I had learned over the past year was that monsters abound, usually hiding in plain sight."

At the Water's Edge encompasses adventure, domestic relationships, romance, and coming of age into a story set intriguingly on the shores of Loch Ness in 1945. That is the "water's edge." Loch Ness is a fresh water loch in the Scottish highlands. It is, of course, best known for its legendary Loch Ness monster "Nessie."

The war has brought soldiers, land mines, losses, and heroes. The legend of the Loch Ness monster brings Maddie, Ellis, and Hank - an inseparable trio of friends. Maddie and Ellis are married, but the trio is always together. In the United States, they belong to a class of the privileged wealthy. Ellis and Hank are both not in the war, excused for medical reasons. A fight between Ellis and his father leaves them out of the family home and perhaps disinherited.  Ellis thinks to photograph the Loch Ness monster and redeem himself in his father's eyes for his is this mission in which his father failed and was publicly humiliated years ago.

Their arrival in the Scottish Highlands is noticeable - and not in a good way. The locals do not take kindly to the three of them, especially to Ellis and Hank. Soon, however, Maddie begins to establish relationships among the locals while Ellis seems to be in a downward spiral as his quest for the monster remains unfulfilled. Friendship and romance bloom for Maddie while Ellis turns more and more to drugs and alcohol. Hank sometimes plays the role of friend to only one and sometimes mediator. Maddie finds support in war hero Angus, who runs the inn at which the newcomers are staying, and in Meg and Anne, who both work at the inn. Ellis finds himself more and more isolated as his behavior antagonizes those closest to him and the entire town. The story continues in this spiral into a dramatic conclusion.

This book is ultimately more a coming of age story and a romance than historical fiction. Although World War II is the undercurrent to this book, this book is not about the war. In fact, other than a few details, the book could have been set in any time period. So, if you are expecting historical fiction, you may be disappointed.

I enjoyed the magic and mystery of the setting and the contradictions in time, place, and character that abound in this book. Opulence of one nation and despair of another. Wealth flaunted and wealth used as a means to do good. Love and exploitation. War hero and coward. Gullible youth and a maturity born of experience. Mythological monsters and monsters who lurk beneath the surface people show to the world. The author makes no overt comparisons, subtly weaving them into the entire story. The inferences, however, are clear and dramatic.

Most clear of all is Maddie's evolution through the book. She starts as a young, gullible socialite going from party to party. She and Ellis make a spectacle of themselves in their hometown of Philadelphia. Through this journey, Maddie discovers more about who she is about what she thought she knew about monsters - real and legendary. The Scottish highlanders have no tolerance for socialites and debutantes, and Maddie discovers that perhaps, that is not who she is. She discovers a depth, an understanding, and a maturity in her life and in her new relationships - a whole new life at the water's edge, if you will.

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