“It seems there’s nothing so good or pure it can’t be taken without a moment’s notice.”
At the Water’s Edge is a tale of Maddie, a woman who is married to a well-to-do man who is trying to prove his worth. Essentially, Maddie is forced to go along on a “monster quest” with her husband Ellis and his best friend Hank. They are in search of the Loch Ness Monster because years ago, Ellis’s father ruined the family reputation by faking pictures of the creature. While away, Maddie comes to face many monsters, the least of her worries being Nessie.
The book is set against a backdrop of World War II, which only enriches and enlivens the text. Gruen seamlessly weaves the war into the story, giving the book an even stronger depth due to the history behind it. The plot of the book doesn’t center around the war, but the war certainly supports and highlights the themes of the work. From Ellis’s failure to enlist in the war to bombings to mentions of concentration camps, Maddie feels the impacts of this devastating time in history as she suffers her personal battles.
I found that I had absolutely nothing in common with Maddie from a social or cultural sense. The setting was far beyond my reach of personal knowledge, and Maddie’s presence in an affluent society was also very different from my own life. However, this is what I loved most about the book. Because it was such a different concept with foreign settings, places, and customs, I was entranced by the work. I was fascinated by the inundation of culture in the work, by the foreign places and characters. It made Maddie’s self-realizations even stronger because she was finding herself in a new and strange place. I liked watching her change because of the setting. I also liked exploring a different area of the world, a different time period, and a different way of life than what I am used to.
The book is told in first person, which also gives the novel a depth that is unmatched in many novels. Maddie’s complex emotions about the war, friendships, and her marriage are clearly revealed through the narrative pattern, allowing the reader to struggle along with the emotions of the tale right along with Maddie.
This novel isn’t just about a monster quest set in the 1940s, the Loch Ness Monster, or marriage. It’s about friendship, about moving on past tragedy, and about how we don’t have to let the past own us. There are many tragic events in the novel that keep it exciting and fast-paced. Even though it is told from first person point-of-view, it isn’t just an emotional look at the events or a psychological, introspective novel. There is a lot of action in the novel and many events that keep the reader intrigued.
Gruen has truly created another masterpiece equivalent if not stronger than Water for Elephants. Her ability to weave history with fiction while also exploring deep women’s issues makes her one of the greatest writers of our time.
Lindsay Detwiler, author of Voice of Innocence