“At the Water’s Edge” by Sara Gruen

This is not my first Gruen read, and probably not my last. I tore through this 350 page book in two days, and I’m slightly angry that I didn’t pace myself. I pulled this off the shelf not only because of the author, but because the cover jacket mentioned the Loch Ness Monster.

Now, a little sidenote: As a native Vermonter, I grew up with the legend of Champ, the Lake Champlain monster. Toted as the United States version of Scotland’s own Nessie, Champ was the mythical water creature that captured the imaginations of locals and tourists surrounding the lake. So as a kid, I was naturally curious to learn more about both Nessie and Champ, and although I admit I’m a skeptic, I love to hear and read about the sightings.

So, I indulged myself and thought I’d see what “At the Water’s Edge” had to do with the Loch Ness Monster. Although in the end (SPOILER ALERT) the only thing that the monster did was draw me into the book, and drive the story’s plot.

Gruen opens the novel with a tragedy. On Valentine’s Day of 1942, a Scottish woman is grieving the loss of her infant when she receives a telegram with news of her husband, gone missing and presumed dead in battle during WWII. With a heavy broken heart, she walks into Loch Ness, allowing herself to sink into a watery grave.

Fast forward to 1944, the author introduces the trio of Ellis and Maddie Hyde, and their best friend Hank. Raised in privilege but accused of being a disgrace to those in their surrounding high society, the trio end up aboard a ship heading for Scotland in search of the Loch Ness Monster, determined to prove otherwise. It wasn’t an easy passage as war wages around them; attacks from German U-boats and soldiers with significant wounds on stretchers prove to be a rude awakening. They arrive at their extended stay inn, a pub that is far below their high standards, and after a nights rest the men start plotting how to find the monster. Maddie, sea-sick and weak after the journey across the Atlantic, stays behind and is cared for by those running the inn. From there, she establishes a friendship with Meg the barmaid and Anna the housekeeper, and a respect for Angus the innkeeper.

Maddie starts to realize the world around her is far different than the one she grew up in, as well as the two men she grew up with. Her husband Ellis is so wrapped up in his efforts to find the Loch Ness monster- a creature his father searched for only to find embarrassment and failure- that he becomes reckless, getting drunk and disorderly night after night. Hank, ever the sidekick, follows. Both men feel the need to prove themselves to both the locals and their families, especially because neither could serve in the war efforts due to ‘hidden ailments’- color blindness and flat feet, respectively. In a time where everyone was doing something for the war efforts, to have two seemingly capable men not fighting on the front for their country was shameful.

Despite unsuccessful attempts to provide proof of the monster, the men still hold on to their sense of entitlement, and wear out their welcome quickly at the inn. However determined, their genuine efforts become fraudulent, and as Maddie catches on to their schemes, she simultaneously notes that her marriage is deceiving as well. In the end, Maddie’s story and the tragically drowned Scottish woman coincide, the war comes to an end, and (SPOILER ALERT) the Loch Ness Monster never makes it’s public appearance. But, as Maddie points out, “the monsters we seek may be right in front of us.” While searching for one monster, she uncovers a different one in her husband.

Now, if there is one thing I could complain about, it’s that I did find the character development pretty obvious. Maddie changes from privileged to working class, Ellis becomes the bad guy, and (SPOILER ALERT) Angus becomes the hero… all things I could have guessed about 50 pages in. But the story line is fast paced, and though at times predictable, the events that occur are just enough to keep the reader on the edge. Would I read this book again? No, probably not. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the read. “At the Water’s Edge” kept me so absorbed from the beginning that I barely put it down in 48 hours, and to be that engrossed is one of the things I look for in a good book.

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Amanda

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