Drowning Ruth
by Christina Schwarz
Book Review by Amy Coffin
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One of her earliest memories is of drowning in the frozen lake along with her mother. Her Aunt Amanda is always dismissing the memory. After all, Ruth is here isn't she? Therefore, she couldn't have drowned. It's all just a dream.

She's Ruth's mother and the very woman who fell through the ice and drowned one freezing evening. Everyone in town thought it was incredibly sad. She left behind a three year-old daughter and a husband off fighting in the First World War.

She's the older sister of Mathilda. Really, she's the only one who knew what happened the night Mathilda died. They lived an isolated life out there on the island. Since her sister's death, Amanda has raised Ruth. Even when Carl returned home and was informed that his wife dead, Amanda remained to run the farm and household. What the readers know that the characters don't know is that Amanda has held a very big secret for a very long time.

"I'm not blaming them, a married couple needs a place to live, after all. Still, if they had not built their house on my island, Mathilda would not have drowned. If you look at it one way, it was as simple as that."

He survived major injuries and came home from the war, only to find he was a widow with a young daughter who didn't even know him. He's grateful that Amanda has stayed on to run the house while he mourns. He blames himself for leaving, and is truly baffled by Amanda's version of the events of that fateful evening. He can't get the thought out of his mind. Mathilda was a great swimmer. How could she have died? Why was she even on the treacherously icy lake that evening?

"It was like riding a ferris wheel. One day he would be relaxed, untroubled, sure that Amanda's story was trueshe and Mathilda had lived on the island because they loved it there, because Mathilda wanted to be in the house she shared with him. And then the doubts would begin and the uncertainties build, until at last he would have to drop whatever he was doing and hurry singlemindedly to the house to search for clues of something else."

Lake Nagawaukee:
It's a relatively common lake in the great state of Wisconsin. At one end is the Starkey farm. The Starkeys also own the island a mile off shore. That's where Carl and Mathilda built their house as newlyweds. Who knew it would also be the place where Mattie would draw her last breath?

What we know and the characters don't is that several of the residents on this lake are unknowingly bound by Amanda's secret.

Oh what a tangled web we weave. It started out as a single secret designed to protect one person. Now, it has grown. It is too big and can be hidden no more. Too many people are affected.

Drowning Ruth takes the reader along the path to discover the secrets of the past. We learn bits and pieces of the truth here and there, but never all at once. Christina Schwarz times this novel perfectly, weaving the tale during the present with vivid flashbacks of the past to produce the final outcome. What makes it even more exciting is that the characters take turns telling story, and we get to seek the truth from several perspectives.

The only problem is that there is such a build-up to the end that the conclusion is sort of mellow compared to the rest of the story. It's a good ending, not a great ending. Also, missing is poor Carl, who leaves in the middle of the story and doesn't come back. All the loose ends are wrapped-up, however, leaving this reader pretty much satisfied.

Drowning Ruth is an excellent first novel by Christina Schwarz. Apparently, the Gods are smiling on her effort as Oprah has granted this story worthy of the coveted "Book Club" status.

Whether you love or hate Oprah's Book Club, you must give this novel the attention it deserves. The characters are interesting, although not always likable. The story is chilling, compelling, and complex. Schwarz is to be praised for not dumbing down the plot or the people in it.

Drowning Ruth can wholeheartedly be recommended to any reader in search of a novel that marches to the beat of a different drummer. The story is unique and interesting. An excellent first effort by Christina Schwarz that has me anxiously awaiting her second book.

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