Wednesday, September 23, 2015

At The Water's Edge Book Review

Rawr Reader,

We need to stop meeting like this. 
Actually I thought I posted a review a month back but apparently it's been much longer than that. I apologize. I'm not as frequent posting as I would like to have been these past months. But I just finished a book I absolutely had to share. Yes, it's Sara Gruen's At the Water's Edge and I have to say, I have much to say. So, without further ado, the synopsis, much thanks to Goodreads.

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. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love. 

It's been a while if I'm to be frank, so I'm a little unsure. I think I just saw the cover while browsing books online and was intrigued. Or maybe it was looking up Sara Gruen's other novels since I didn't want to read Water for Elephants since I've already seen the movie. But like I said, I can't remember.

(safe for those who haven't read this yet)
     Okay, this book really speaks to me. First off, I've never read a book where I really connected to the writing style and story and seen in reflected with my own. Others may disagree-- but I saw it and it motivated me to want to finish working my novel.
    Secondly, there's something about having characters drive us crazy, but we love them because they're so well written. Yes Ellis and Hank are the typical drunks and Maddie tags along like she has no choice, but I'd rather a writer experiment and give me characters that may be headaches in real life, than conform to a mold so all I read about are the same ordinary girls who aren't so ordinary, or the girls who are extraordinary just because they have this magical trait about them. Slightly off topic since magic isn't a part of the story so much as folk lore, but I think you get my point.
    I do have some complaints though, one being the romance. It wasn't fleshed out well between the two characters. It seemed rarher forced into a compressed amount of time. I loved the pair together, but other romance stories do it justice better. I'd say romance is definitely not a key element. I'll go more into it in the spoiler section below.
    Another key element not in the story is the war, and honestly, I loved that fact. I recently read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and it too is set in WWII, and while the writing was beautiful as this book was, the story fell flat because I wasn't getting real depth into the characters as I feel I did in this book. If I wanted facts and numbers on the battles and events of the war, I'd read a history book. If I'm reading a novel, I focus on the world and the characters and the story, not just on prose and over-compensating amount of chapter time jumps (if that sentence made any sense).
    One thing I did find really interesting between certain characters was between Ellis and Hank. Gruen has Maddie claim they're "two parts of the same person" and yet, I have to disagree. I think Hank was a drunk and a coward and capable of infidelity, but he wasn't cruel or borderline lunatic. Honestly, there were *many* times I thought he was in love with Maddie. At least so much so compared to Ellis who treated her like an accessory. Though I have to say, I was expecting there to be a scene of shall I say, closeness, between Ellis and Hank. I mean, they were always together so I suspected that they would hook up. Just a personal thought.
    Lastly I want to mention a reason to check this book out. The friendships formed between Maddie and Anna and Meg are exceptional. I rarely read a book with friendships which are as pivotal to the story as the romance (and lack thereof). It was so real and dynamic and every chapter of Maddie working with them was just as satisfying to read as her romance-central chapters. And I love me some romance in my books.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

"Always carry a large flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and further, always carry a small snake.”
-Sara Gruen, At the Water's Edge

My Goodreads:

Next To Read:
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

River Song's Spoilers:
(unsafe for those who haven't read this book yet, so don't read this section)
    I need to get this off my chest first. Romance?! I mean, yes there's romance but...Romance? One of the troubles I had with this book was it was structured very much like a weighing scale. The first half of the novel was devoted to the women's friendships growing and developing whereas the last half focused on the romance between Maddie and Angus. I wished it was braided a little more throughout the story. Honestly, I thought maybe the "love" mentioned in the synopsis would be about Ellis developing a little and they find a new meaning of love in their marriage between them, but then nope, it's the motel owner who pops up occasionally in the first 160 or so pages of the novel. Don't get me wrong, I love Angus. But I don't even really have a clear idea of what he looks like, though I have his age thanks to the gravestone inscriptions at the beginning of the story. But I had an even worse idea of what our protagonist looked like, other than she had green eyes and was borderline anorexic coming to Scotland. I don't recall an age, which frustrated me for some undiscovered reason, but more than anything, I just wanted more scenes between the two. They have a lot of awkward encounters or polite small talk at first, but then all of a sudden she was completely in love with him and so he was with her (though I could believe it since the only reason he let the three stay in Scotland that first night was after seeing her--- I knew he took a fancy to her), I just wish I knew why. Did she remind him appearance-wise of his previous wife? Did she have a similar personality? We don't know. And never will. *sigh* So yes, I needed more. Because all of a sudden he rejected her and then she cries and then he changes his mind (probably scared she would reject him later---I was laughing reading this chapter it was so bizarre to see in a novel), and then BAM--- they're doing it. Their relationship is rocky from that point because she has this plan to save him by not revealing her plan to him about how to get rid of Ellis and then he has to save her and yadda-yadda. To be honest I found it clich√© of her to run away. Well I mean the whole ending for me was predictable altogether, but maybe I should just take this time to transition.
    Now about that ending. It was too rushed and forced to end soon. The beginning and middle actually dragged on comparing weight and importance of story compared to the last third or so. Maybe quarter. I understand you don't want to drag out the story longer than needed, but the climax was about a handful of pages. Maddie finally lets it all out to her crazy husband---who has previous accounts of possibly becoming violent against her---on a boat that she is undoubtedly trapped in with. What did she really see coming out of that decision? Ellis has been obsessing over this. Her yelling wasn't going to snap him out of it-- least of all when he was just a fabricated video away from going home to lap and luxury. So yeah, the ending wasn't really a favorite. If anything, it disappointed me because throughout the book I was mesmerized, finding myself more and more despairing that the book would end soon and wishing it went on another two hundred pages.
    And this may be me, but I definitely thought that Ellis and Hank were going to reveal to be lovers. There were just too many moments where things would get heated and they would look at each other. It's the kind of closeness I guess people always say about Frodo and Sam's relationship in the Lord of the Rings movies-- though I refuse to see their friendship that way. But in the end I guess it will all have to fall into me reading too much into the ink on the page and they were just drunk. I'll be honest, I'm not around drunk people often enough to understand if they're drunk or if they're personally just really temperamental. 
     Another comment I have to bring forward is: I've never read another novel by Gruen but I have seen the movie Water for Elephants and I found a lot of similarities theme/structure/character-wise. Married couples going through troubles. The husband is mentally unstable and comes to be violent against his spouse. There's the outsider man who woos the woman. There's more that I'll add but I suddenly blanked on it. I don't know. It was enough to knock off a star though because that just shows she's working off of a structure or outline that compliments other novels she's done, which falls under the category of predictable author. Regardless of how beautifully written I find the novel, it's not my favorite thing to admit but I do take plot into consideration. How similar it is to other novels written, and unfortunately, how similar it is to other works by the author themselves.
    Something I was expecting to be more woven into the story was the monster itself. There are three foreboding and sinister moments that hint toward the fantastical creature(s) appearing, however it's never confirmed as real. The first time she encounters the woman that precursors death, the time she tries to kill herself and then is backed away from the lake (the spirit of the wife), and the monster itself at the end. Yes, it's in the synopsis. The three Americans are in Scotland for the creature, but the creature is just a reason to get them across the Atlantic. The story is in the characters and relationships and dynamics between them. For this, I'm partially disheartened. I wanted more Loch Ness in my story. 

Until Next Time,
Nicole Ciel

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