Drowning Ruth Paperback – 6 Sep 2001
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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 our relaxed morals and social mobility have rendered many of the classics untenable. Why shouldn't Maisie know what she knows? It will all come out in family therapy anyway. The vogue for historical novels depends in part on our pleasure in reentering 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)
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Top Customer Reviews
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
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Atmospheric, vivid and quite amazing for a debut novel. A tragedy sets in motion a deeply psychological thriller. Read morePublished on 15 Feb. 2013 by Jane Baker
The main problem with this book apart from the tedious writing is the lack of feelings I had for the main character, amanda. Read morePublished on 8 Jun. 2010 by Modupe Oriyomi
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 morePublished on 23 Jan. 2010 by DEJ
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 morePublished on 22 Dec. 2009 by Nicola F (Nic)
American pastoral with a shock in the tail. A tremendously enjoyable read with spare but evocative writing and well crafted characters. Read morePublished on 16 Sept. 2009 by Eileen Shaw
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... Read morePublished on 2 Sept. 2006 by Noddy H
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 morePublished on 16 Jan. 2006 by Mary Whipple
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 morePublished on 7 Feb. 2004 by Margaret H