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 compelling mystery' The Times (Play (The Times) 20010922)
'Assured and dense debut...Schwarz's real achievement is in matching the complexities of her plot with vivid characters' The Scotsman (The Scotsman 20010901)
'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 20010901)
'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 20010901)
'A riveting first novel... A very suspenseful tale, one that will keep readers up shivering in the heat of an August night' (USA Today 20010901)
'Quietly powerful prose and carefully nuanced description... Creates a satisfying fictional world. An engrossing debut from a writer to watch' (Kirkus Reviews 20010901)
'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 20010901)
'This unusually deft and assured first novel conveys a good deal more than thrills and chills' (Time 20010901)
'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 20010901)
'It remains gripping to the end' (New York Post 20010901)
'A remarkable debut: surprising, unsettling and sure' (New York Times Book Review 20010901)
'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 20020325)
'The compelling quality of Christina Schwarz's first novel, DROWNING RUTH, is quite unique' Independent (Independent 20020325)