At the Water’s Edge

The first book you see in a bookstore: At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

Why I picked it: I kept seeing this on my Audible feed over the past few months, so I decided it was time to finally download it after I finished binge-listening to the entire Winner’s trilogy. This audiobook is also narrated by Justine Eyre, who continues to amaze me with her ability to do accents. I LOVED Water for Elephants but hadn’t read any of Gruen’s other books, so all in all, this seemed like a good pick.

Blurb in brief: “After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind.

To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war.

Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants.”

What I thought: Ultimately, this book was somewhat of a disappointment. The basic plot is very similar to a less tightly-plotted, gender-flipped Water for Elephants, with Maddie subbing in for Jacob’s fish-out-of-water character who runs away to the Scottish highlands rather than to the circus. Maddie’s agency is somewhat diminished as she is dragged across the Atlantic on the whims of her husband, Ellis, and their friend, Hank, rather than choosing to strike out of her own accord.

Sidebar: Ellis is absolutely the worst. THE WORST.

The alleged reason for their trip is to find the Loch Ness Monster, an endeavor in which Ellis’ estranged father failed. I was never clear on if he was hoping to win his father’s favor back by vindicating his claims or if the caper was meant as a kind of eff-you to his dad. Ellis and Hank’s motives (and relationship) remain a bit murky throughout the book.

Despite the fact that Maddie is an adult, this really is a kind of coming of age story as she grapples with the truths about her place in her family, her marriage, and society.

“It was full of luxurious trappings and shiny baubles, and that had blinded me to the fact that nothing about it was real.”

Gruen writes beautifully, and her writing in this book doesn’t disappoint; there are some truly lovely descriptions sprinkled throughout.

I initially thought I’d give this book 4 stars after I finished reading it; however, the more I thought about it, the more some of the plot holes bothered me. Perhaps Water for Elephants had these same issues and my memories of Jacob and Rosie are just colored rosy (pun intended), but ultimately, I think that is the better story of the two.

My rating: 3/5; Goodreads rating: 3.64/5

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