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Drowning Ruth [Audiobook] [Audio Cassette]

Christina Schwarz , Blair Brown
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 May 2001
Six cassettes, 9 1/2 hrs.
Performance by Blair Brown

Deftly written and emotionally powerful, DROWNING RUTH is a stunning portrait of the ties that bind sisters together and the forces that tear them apart, of the dangers of keeping secrets and the explosive repercussions when they are exposed. A mesmerizing and achingly beautiful debut.

Winter, 1919. Amanda Starkey 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 Nagawaukee Lake, seeking comfort from 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, he 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 increasing 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 novels shows her compassion and a unique understanding of the American landscape and the people who live on it.

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Product details

  • Audio Cassette
  • Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group; Unabridged edition (15 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055352853X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553528534
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 11 x 6.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,460,521 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

For 19th-century novelists--from Jane Austen to George Eliot, Flaubert to Henry James--social constraint gave a delicious tension to their plots. Yet now relaxed morals and social mobility have rendered many of the classics untenable. Why shouldn't Maisie know what she knows? The vogue for historical novels depends in part on our pleasure in re-entering a world of subtle cues and repressed emotion, a time in which a young woman could destroy her life by saying yes to the wrong man. After all, there was no reliable birth control, no divorce, no chance of an independent life or a scandal-free separation. Christina Schwarz's suspenseful debut pivots on two of the lost "virtues" of the past: silence and stoicism.

Drowning Ruth opens in 1919, on the heels of the influenza epidemic that followed the First World War. Although there were telephones and motor cars and dance halls in the small towns of Wisconsin in those years, the townspeople remained rigid and forbidding. As a young woman, Amanda Starkey, a Lutheran farmer's daughter, had been firmly discouraged from an inappropriate marriage with a neighbouring Catholic boy. A few years later, as a nurse in Milwaukee, she is seduced by a dishonourable man. Her shame sends her into a nervous breakdown, and she returns to the family farm. Within a year, though, her beloved sister Mathilde drowns under mysterious circumstances. And when Mathilde's husband, Carl, returns from the war, he finds his small daughter, Ruth, in Amanda's tenacious grip, and she will tell him nothing about the night his wife drowned. Amanda's parents, too, are long gone.

"I killed my parents. Had I mentioned that?" muses Amanda. "I killed them because I felt a little fatigued and suffered from a slight, persistent cough. Thinking I was overworked and hadn't been getting enough sleep, I went home for a short visit, just a few days to relax in the country while the sweet corn and the raspberries were ripe. From the city I brought fancy ribbon, two boxes of Ambrosia chocolate, and a deadly gift... I gave the influenza to my mother, who gave it to my father, or maybe it was the other way around."
Schwarz is a skilful writer, weaving her grim tale across several decades, always returning to the fateful night of Mathilde's death. Drowning Ruth displays her gift for pacing and her harsh insistence on the right ending, rather than the cheery one. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'A gripping read' Choice magazine (Choice)

'A compelling mystery' The Times (Play (The Times))

'Assured and dense debut...Schwarz's real achievement is in matching the complexities of her plot with vivid characters' The Scotsman (The Scotsman)

'Austere, tense, painful and rewarding, this book keeps you reading until the vertebrae sulk - and the aftertaste has the bitterness of a linctus whose sharpness conveys its benefit' Frank Delaney (Frank Delaney)

In [the] assured last stroke, Ms Schwarz affirms the psychological underpinnings of a book that would have worked page-turningly well as a straightforward mystery alone. She gives it the extra wisdom that marks DROWNING RUTH as the chilling, precociously good start to a bright new novelist's career (New York Times)

'This is a book that really ought not to be missed' Sentinel Sunday (Sentinel Sunday)

A strong sense of portent and unusually vivid characters distinguish this mesmerizing first novel about horrifying family secrets and nearly annihilating guilt. DROWNING RUTH is a complex and rewarding debut (Anita Shreve)

A riveting first novel... A very suspenseful tale, one that will keep readers up shivering in the heat of an August night (USA Today)

Quietly powerful prose and carefully nuanced description... Creates a satisfying fictional world. An engrossing debut from a writer to watch (Kirkus Reviews)

The first sentence of this brilliantly understated psychological thriller leaps off the page and captures the reader's imagination...Schwarz deftly uses first-person narration to heighten the drama. Her prose is spare but bewitching, and she juggles the speakers and time periods with the surety of a seasoned novelist (Publishers Weekly)

This unusually deft and assured first novel conveys a good deal more than thrills and chills (Time)

The stars of DROWNING RUTH are the beautifully imagined lakes in summer and winter, the desolate farmhouse where Ruth grows up... The book offers ... more tender gifts (Washington Post)

It remains gripping to the end (New York Post)

A remarkable debut: surprising, unsettling and sure (New York Times Book Review)

'It is not hard to see why DROWNING RUTH became a bestseller...Where many historical novels are weighed down by detail, DROWNING RUTH is drenched in the melancholic atmosphere of its setting...an intriguing story' New Statesman (New Statesman)

'The compelling quality of Christina Schwarz's first novel, DROWNING RUTH, is quite unique' Independent (Independent) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars With Kathy Bates, it could be a terrific film. 3 Oct 2003
With its vivid depiction of its post-World War I setting in Wisconsin, its nightmarish complexities as a family saga, its carefully developed suspense, and its simplicity of theme, Drowning Ruth has "blockbuster movie" written all over it.
These statements are not negatives, however. Drowning Ruth is a very good read!
The author is precise and careful about building her suspense with excruciating slowness. She has created intriguing characters--at heart, not all that different from you and me--characters who are confronted with difficult problems to solve, some of which are not of their own making and some of which are the unexpected results of desperate decisions made in the long ago past. Her alternations of point of view help to give breadth and depth to the conflicts within the main characters, while the fragmentary memories which Ruth contributes add to both the mystery and the sense of dread.
Although Schwarz ably illustrates the restricted roles into which women had to adapt themselves during the period, the mores which applied to "good girls," and the limited choices open to them, the lack of liberation is so natural a part of her story that her novel and its complications are by no means part of a liberation manifesto. Drowning Ruth is a simple story presented clearly and suspensefully by an author who, like Amanda, is careful to keep her grasp completely within her reach. Mary Whipple
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A haunting tale of past secrets 4 Nov 2001
By A Customer
I think it was Oscar Wilde who said nobody is rich enough to be able to buy his/her past. This is a haunting tale of past secrets coming back. A beautifully written, often heartbreaking, book that evolves into a real page-turner. One could say that it speaks of the unbearable decisions people have to make under extraordinary circumstances. I first heard of it when (if I'm not mistaken)it was selected for Oprah's book of the month in the US and it is especially suited to female readers. Christina Schwartz is an author to keep in mind.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Suspense builds up to an anti-climax 2 Sep 2006
Well defined characters, and a suspenseful plot that promises a lot but leaves you just a bit disappointed at the end, when perhaps you might reasonably be entitled to expect a late twist. A couple of the events necessary to fuel the plot seem a little contrived, such as the way that Clement Owens is somehow planted into the vicinity of the Neumanns, the way that Ruth is introduced to the Owens household, and the way that Carl, whose character appeared to be developing quite satisfactorily, is suddenly removed from the story, presumably to facilitate the desired ending. That said, this is still a very readable psychological thriller, and a promising debut for this author. Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gripping in parts, highly strung!! 14 Mar 2001
A tense and complex trail which leads us through a minefield of relationships and circumstances which unfold as the story progresses. The highlights for me were the setting which provides a bleak backdrop, fitting for the story; the period itself and the constraints that determined how the characters behaved; and finally the complex family relationships - parents, siblings, children - the intensity of which is so well captured throughout. My only criticism is the length and consequently I felt the highly charged atmosphere in most parts was slightly lost by the end.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars American pastoral 16 Sep 2009
By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER
American pastoral with a shock in the tail. A tremendously enjoyable read with spare but evocative writing and well crafted characters. The story is compelling, with a central character you cannot quite trust. I love it when writers have the confidence to show human beings in all their complexity, full shades of grey and not just black and white. Faultless in its construction, the novel comes out at the end with a revelation that, throughout the book, you could be forgiven for getting entirely wrong. When a writer can give you a human being who seems to be faulty, reprehensible, even culpable, and yet you still understand and even identify with them, you know you have a fascinating and most enjoyable read ahead of you. So a mystery is set up, but the puzzle is not what you are led to imagine. Excellent writing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad 15 Nov 2007
By Sonia
Drowning Ruth is a great book in concept. The story revolves around the mysterious drowning of Mathilda Neuman in a lake in Wisconsin. From the onset it is clear that her sister Amanda, with whom she was living at the time knows more about the drowning. It is even suggested here and there that she is to blame for her sister's death. Whether this is the case I leave to the potential readers to read for themselves and find out.
As the story moves forward from that point on, the chain events leading up to Mathilda's tragic death are little by little revealed. Meanwhile, Ruth, Mathilda's daughter is growing up, her father Carl returns from the war and Amanda, tries to be a good mother to her niece.

Some very interesting issues are at the centre of this novel: sibling rivalry that seems inseparable from sisterly love; traditional family values and what is viewed as proper behaviour for women that may lead to desperate measures, are only a few examples.
Some of the characters were also enticing, especially Amanda, whose over-protectiveness of her mother, sister and niece is not easily classified. Is it selfish or selfless?

However, I believe this work has some flaws and it makes the author come across as promising but inexperienced. For one, all male characters are flat. Whether this was intentional or not, it takes a toll on the credibility of the story. Secondly, there are some loose ends that the author didn't tie up. For example, in order to conceal her secrets Amanda allows Carl to believe things about his dead wife that may be detrimental to his memory of her. Thirdly, when the truth finally comes out, Ruth's reaction is a bit simplified, making it an anticlimax to this story.

But all in all I enjoyed reading this book most of the time.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Chillingly gripping
Atmospheric, vivid and quite amazing for a debut novel. A tragedy sets in motion a deeply psychological thriller. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Jane Baker
2.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely boring
The main problem with this book apart from the tedious writing is the lack of feelings I had for the main character, amanda. Read more
Published on 8 Jun 2010 by Modupe Oriyomi
5.0 out of 5 stars A better read than some of the reviews lead you to expect
I don't find it that easy to find books that I can't put down but this book has kept me gripped all weekend.. Read more
Published on 23 Jan 2010 by DEJ
1.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the worst book I've ever read, but it comes close...
Being an Oprah book club recommendation I expected this to be pretty good- she's usually spot-on when it comes to books that are sharp, witty, insightful and thought-provoking... Read more
Published on 22 Dec 2009 by Nicola F (Nic)
4.0 out of 5 stars With Kathy Bates, it could be a terrific film.
With its vivid depiction of its post-World War I setting in Wisconsin, its nightmarish complexities as a family saga, its carefully developed suspense, and its simplicity of theme,... Read more
Published on 16 Jan 2006 by Mary Whipple
5.0 out of 5 stars An Oprah Fan
I loved this book. I have read a few of Oprah's book club books and they are not "happy ending" type books at all. This one is the best one I have read so far. Read more
Published on 7 Feb 2004 by Margaret H
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad
I found this book quite poor. I have to admit that I don't normally read books like Drowning Ruth with the exception of a couple of Anita Shreeves. Read more
Published on 31 Mar 2002 by jintz@altavista.com
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully crafted tale of the affects of a secret
This brief story of how one secret changes the lives of a family is a tense and inticate unwinding. Many times you will try to guess what happened on that fateful night and then... Read more
Published on 1 Mar 2002 by gillowen@kellehers.co.uk
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