I had never read a book by Sara Gruen, though I’ve certainly heard of “Water for Elephants”. I thought this one sounded intriguing, and I was able to get an ARC from Net Galley.
AT THE WATER’S EDGE starts with a young WWII war widow in Scotland losing her baby and then committing suicide by drowning herself in the lake. We then switch to the social scene in Philadelphia and young marrieds, Ellis and Maddie, and their best friend, Hank, whooping it up and causing a scene for New Year’s. Hank and Ellis are both unable to serve in the war due to physical reasons. The three are young, wealthy, immature, and irreverent. When Ellis’ family is angered by their behavior, Ellis decides they will redeem themselves by travelling to Scotland to locate and film the Loch Ness Monster – a task his father tried before him. Ellis is sure this will redeem him in his family’s eyes. Hank goes along with this plan and Maddie is dragged along against her will. Once in Scotland, however, they realize their fun is not appreciated and their attitude and behavior is pretty insensitive and inappropriate. As times passes, Maddie begins to see her husband in a new light (not a favorable one!) and starts to mature and change herself. However, things start to spiral out of control towards the end of the book as Ellis becomes determined to “find the monster” and to not let anyone stand in his way.
I could not put this book down. In other places I’ve seen it reviewed as a romance. While it does have a romantic component to it, I would not classify it as a romance, but as historical fiction. I loved the character of Maddie. I really had hope in the beginning that she would not be as self-centered and callous as her husband, and she lived up to my expectations! Ellis, on the other hand, I could not stand. It’s rare I have such a violent dislike for a character, but there is whole part of this book where Ellis tries to make Maddie think she is mentally frail and anxious and that she needs hospitalization (perhaps a lobotomy!), even though Maddie is fine. I have no sympathy for big manipulators who play mind games with their wives in order to do what they want. On another note, I have seen some reviews that say “the monster in the lake symbolizes Hitler and Ellis, and that’s so obvious, blah blah blah”. However, I had a different take on it. (Ms. Gruen – if you ever do me the honor of reading my humble blog, please let me know if I’m right). I think the monster in the lake lives within all of us — we all have a monster within, and it’s what we do with it that shapes us. Do we become like Ellis — self-centered and self-serving to the point of harming others? Or like Maddie? Remember the “monster” saved Maddie at one point, too. And the vagueness at the end — how did Ellis end up where he ended up? Maybe the monster was seeking justice…
So, I like my “Lord of the Flies” take on the monster idea better than just monster = Ellis/Hitler – which of course can be seen as true as well.
Did you read this book? If so, what did you think? I loved it!
Thank you, Net Galley and Random House, for my copy.
Find it at an indie near you! (I’m an Indie Bound affiliate). It publishes 3/31/15.