Sunday, March 29, 2015

Where Monsters Lurk: Sara Gruen's At The Water's Edge

In January, 1945 while most families pray for the safety of menfolk at war, Madeline (Maddie), her husband Ellis (heir to his mother's Wanamaker fortune) and his best friend Hank scandalize Philadelphia society with their drunken antics. (Think Scott and Zelda.)

Madeline's distant father was a wealthy 'entrepreneur who dabbled in burlesque' and her manipulative mother a famed beauty and vaudeville star. Her grandfather was a Tammany Hall connected robber baron. She is not considered a proper marriage choice by her in-laws.

Ellis's father finally turns his son out of his Rittenhouse Square mansion. Unable to face hotel life, Ellis wants to regain his father's approval. His grandfather had photographed a loch monster, later labeled a hoax. Ellis decides to reclaim the family's good name by proving the monster is real. He takes Madeline and Hank on a dangerous war time journey across the Atlantic to Scotland.

Madeline has been insulated from the grim reality of the war until their the ship takes on survivors from a bombed military ship. The confrontation with burned and blasted bodies begins her moral wakening.

Drumnadrochit is a dismal place and the inn primitive. The locals have no fond memory of Ellis's grandfather. Ellis is superior and disdainful, Hank is a charming rake. Madeline tries to keep her dually-addicted husband happy. He is a mean drunk. As his behavior alienates Madeline he realizes he needs a way to control her--and her money.

While Ellis and Hank chase after the elusive monster, disappearing for days at a time (with the rationing books) only to return drunk, Madeline must fend for herself. To keep busy and 'earn her keep' she learns how to assist the staff in the most basic tasks until she becomes accepted as 'Maddie'. She comes to admire the manager, Angus, who was badly scarred in the war but is vigorous and fearless. His back story of loss becomes central to the plot and the fantasy element.

At The Water's Edge is at heart a historical romance--with elements of Gothic and fantasy. The focus is on Maddie's coming of age, learning that there are monsters hiding in plain sight, discovering her capacity for self determination, and encountering true love. The book sweeps the reader along with plenty of plot interest. (Perhaps too much plot interest.) The women are better portrayed than the men.

Warning: there are sexual encounters and brutality against women. The relationship between Ellis and Hank is not spelled out, but there are cloaked references to their being be gay lovers.

Daily life in wartime Scotland was nicely portrayed with rationing, black out shades, air raid shelters and gas masks. I was curious about the air attacks described in the book. I had not known that Scotland was bombed by the Germans. It turns out there were 500 air raids on Scotland.

I find it interesting how many books are coming out set during WWII, particularly in the romance/Women's fiction genre.

I received a free ebook in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

At The Water's Edge
Sara Gruen
Random House
ISBN: 9780385523233
$28.00 hard cover
Publication March 31, 2015

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