I'll admit to you that when I first started reading At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen, I really didn't know what I was in for. I mainly chose it because I really enjoyed her novel Water for Elephants and expected this to be similar. At first I thought I was in for a big disappointment. It just really didn't seem to be on the level with her previous novel. But the more I read and the more that the story opened in front of me, the more I realized what a genius story teller she is. This book may seem like it's going to be a story about searching for the Loch Ness monster, but it's so much more than that. It's dark and twisty and deeper than you think.
Maddie, Ellis and Hank are inseparable. They spend their days moving from one party to the next, and why not? They come from New York's upper crust of society. World War II is raging, but Ellis and Hank have both been denied entry into the military--Hank because he's flat-footed, and Ellis for being color-blind. One night at a party Ellis and Hank get drunk and decide they are going to go to Scotland to find the Loch Ness monster. Ellis' father claimed to have found it and taken pictures years earlier, but was proven to be a fraud. Ellis is determined to find it and clear his father's name. Maddie gets drawn unwillingly into her husband's scheme, and after his parents kick them out of the house, she has no place to go but with him.
After a wild trip across the ocean in the middle of a war, Ellis, Maddie and Hank arrive in Drumnadotchit, Scotland. When the local townspeople realize who Ellis is, and why he's there, the reception is less than welcoming. Suddenly Maddie's world begins to unravel. Everything she thought she knew turns out to be lies. The more she learns about Ellis' and Hank's mission, the more she realizes the danger she is in. But since she is basically alone and in a foreign land, she doesn't have many options available to her. She'll have to discover the truth about herself, her husband, her marriage and even the parents who never cared for her before she can move forward.
I love Sara Gruen's writing style. She gives tantalizing views of the past even as the story moves forward. Instead of starting the book off with a backstory, she offers little peaks into it along the way, giving insight into why the characters behave like they do. This is one of those books that makes you want to read just one more chapter before you turn out the light. I like how Ms. Gruen develops her characters. She isn't afraid to throw in a twist here and there that makes a "good" character turn out to be bad and a "bad" one not so bad as you thought. She makes the war come alive for the reader in much the same way as it does for Maddie. As an American the war just didn't seem real to her, but when she was awakened in the night by air raid sirens and forced to sleep in a bunker while nearby towns were bombed, it became real very quickly. The prologue to me was confusing, and I couldn't figure out where it fit into the story. When the author finally reveals it, it comes slowly without a lot of fanfare, and if you're not paying attention, you might miss it at first.
This is a great book. Even though it took me some time to really get into it, it was worth it. It's an incredible story that will truly have you biting your nails by the end. I will admit that there is language that some readers may find offensive, but if you can overlook that, I guarantee you will enjoy this book.
I was given an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own and a favorable review was not required. Look for At the Water's Edge on or around March 31.