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Drowning Ruth [Hardcover]

Christina Schwarz
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (298 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 2002 0606211659 978-0606211659
Apparently buckling under the strain of caring for wounded soldiers, Amanda retreats from her nursing job at the close of the First World War to her family's farm on a lake in rural Wisconsin, hoping that life with her beloved sister Mattie and her niece, three-year-old Ruth, will restore her. But very soon Amanda comes to see that her old home is no refuge; she has carried her troubles with her. Months later, Mattie's husband Carl returns from the war to find his wife mysteriously drowned and his daughter being raised by prickly and possessive Amanda. What happened the night Mattie died? For years the consequences of that event reverberate, and the truth, when it is finally revealed, is both dramatic and extraordinarily moving.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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From Amazon

For 19th-century novelists--from Jane Austen to George Eliot, Flaubert to Henry James--social constraint gave a delicious tension to their plots. Yet now relaxed morals and social mobility have rendered many of the classics untenable. Why shouldn't Maisie know what she knows? The vogue for historical novels depends in part on our pleasure in re-entering a world of subtle cues and repressed emotion, a time in which a young woman could destroy her life by saying yes to the wrong man. After all, there was no reliable birth control, no divorce, no chance of an independent life or a scandal-free separation. Christina Schwarz's suspenseful debut pivots on two of the lost "virtues" of the past: silence and stoicism.

Drowning Ruth opens in 1919, on the heels of the influenza epidemic that followed the First World War. Although there were telephones and motor cars and dance halls in the small towns of Wisconsin in those years, the townspeople remained rigid and forbidding. As a young woman, Amanda Starkey, a Lutheran farmer's daughter, had been firmly discouraged from an inappropriate marriage with a neighbouring Catholic boy. A few years later, as a nurse in Milwaukee, she is seduced by a dishonourable man. Her shame sends her into a nervous breakdown, and she returns to the family farm. Within a year, though, her beloved sister Mathilde drowns under mysterious circumstances. And when Mathilde's husband, Carl, returns from the war, he finds his small daughter, Ruth, in Amanda's tenacious grip, and she will tell him nothing about the night his wife drowned. Amanda's parents, too, are long gone.

"I killed my parents. Had I mentioned that?" muses Amanda. "I killed them because I felt a little fatigued and suffered from a slight, persistent cough. Thinking I was overworked and hadn't been getting enough sleep, I went home for a short visit, just a few days to relax in the country while the sweet corn and the raspberries were ripe. From the city I brought fancy ribbon, two boxes of Ambrosia chocolate, and a deadly gift... I gave the influenza to my mother, who gave it to my father, or maybe it was the other way around."
Schwarz is a skilful writer, weaving her grim tale across several decades, always returning to the fateful night of Mathilde's death. Drowning Ruth displays her gift for pacing and her harsh insistence on the right ending, rather than the cheery one. --Regina Marler --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

"Ruth remembered drowning." The first sentence of this brilliantly understated psychological thriller leaps off the page and captures the reader's imagination. In Schwarz's debut novel, brutal Wisconsin weather and WWI drama color a tale of family rivalry, madness, secrets and obsessive love. By March 1919, Nurse Amanda Starkey has come undone. She convinces herself that her daily exposure to the wounded soldiers in the Milwaukee hospital where she works is the cause of her hallucinations, fainting spells and accidents. Amanda journeys home to the family farm in Nagawaukee, where her sister, Mathilda (Mattie), lives with her three-year-old daughter Ruth, awaiting the return of her war-injured husband, Carl Neumann. Mattie's ebullient welcome convinces Amanda she can mend there. But then Mattie drowns in the lake that surrounds the sisters' island house and, in a rush of confusion and anguish, Amanda assumes care of Ruth. After Carl comes home, Amanda and he manage to work together on the farm and parent Ruth, but their arrangement is strained: Amanda has a breakdown and recuperates at a sanatorium. As time passes, Ruth grows into an odd, guarded child who clings to perplexing memories of the night her mother drowned. Why does Amanda have that little circle of scars on her hand? What is Amanda's connection to Ruth's friend Imogene and why does she fear Imogene's marriage to Clement Owen's son? Schwarz deftly uses first-person narration to heighten the drama. Her prose is spare but bewitching, and she juggles the speakers and time periods with the surety of a seasoned novelist. Rather than attempting a trumped-up suspenseful finale, Schwarz ends her novel gently, underscoring the delicate power of her tale. Agent, Jennifer R. Walsh at the Writers Shop. Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, Teen People and Mango Book Club main selections; film rights optioned by Miramax, Wes Craven to direct; foreign rights sold in Germany, France, the U.K., Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Denmark. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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I suppose people will say it was my fault, that if I'd not gone home that March in 1919, Mathilda, my only sister, would not be dead. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Nov. 5 2010
By Suzanne
What a great read. I don't really see how anyone could have trouble following the narration. The story unwinds beautifully; Small reveal by small reveal. No big, overdone dramatic moments, no one dimensional 'bad' characters. Despite the title, this is Amanda's story. I alternately despised and felt enormous sympathy for her. I was sorry to see it end. It's been awhile since I really enjoyed a solid novel. The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubuis III comes to mind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Grace Oct. 16 2006
Format:Mass Market Paperback
What I really liked about this novel, apart from the skillful style and the author's prodigious understanding of the emotional life, was its ending. Ruth, despite her appalling entrance into life, turns out fine because her aunt puts so much effort into raising her and she probably would have done it even without the guilt about her past.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars it's OK i guess.. Aug. 30 2005
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This book is good enough for me to keep turning the pages until I reached the second half of it. It's OK I guess but I thought there was more to it.... when I finished it, I said...'That's it??...'.
It's not totally boring(compared to Atonement...OMG!..I couldn't even finish that one..) but I wasn't totally satisfied.
Oh well,..can't make everyone happy..I guess that's just how Ms. Schwartz wanted it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Drowning everyone July 12 2004
By Alexi
The title is very symbolic. It does not only refer to the physical drowning as experienced by some of the characters, but also to the suffocating love & possesiveness of Ruth's aunt towards her. It also stands for Amanda's drowning in her own secrets & personal internal turmoils - a choice she made to protect herself instead of telling the truth. It also refers to Carl's frantic search for truth like a drowning man clawing for support & life. In the midst of these all, we see Ruth desperately wanting to be free but finding herself clutching to the one thing that actually holds her back.
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3.0 out of 5 stars First half is great March 20 2013
Second half is just OK. The first half of the book throws plot twists and family drama at you and has you turning page after page. Then, it just goes on auto-pilot to a rather ho-hum ending that contrasts greatly with the first half of the book. It's still written well and the characters are likeable. But, I just felt more could've been touched on (can't say too much without plot spoilers); it just seemed to skim the surface.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous Pacing Aug. 10 2003
DROWNING RUTH is deceptively clever. What seems initially like the conventional, usually predictable murder yarn turns out actually being a meticulously crafted story of considerable artistic merit. The circumstances of the drowning of Ruth's mother serves as the catalyst that precipitates an intriguing flow of interrelated events in the lives of Amanda (the drowned woman's sister) and her niece Ruth. Christina Schwarz is a wonderfully talented writer who has woven a rather intricate tale of psychological suspense. There are many engrossing trwists and digressions (but quite necessary) in this very emotional marrative. The mystery is sustained throughout because the reader, as if carefully and thoughtfully fitting together all the jagged pieces of a puzzle, learns in successive chapters what actually occurred that particular wintry night so long ago in the past of both Amanda and Ruth. The writer does a marvelous job in pacing the delicate unravelling of the knitting. This is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller.
I recommend this book very highly.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too Predictable. Oct. 17 2001
I was thrilled to get this book in the mail, and ended up disappointed. I felt the plot to be mundane and predictable. The writer revealed the story line by telling the story in both current and past frames of references, and in first person from the viewpoint of several characters, much like in The Poisonwood Bible. The Poisonwood succeeded in creating a compelling read. This book did not. There was very little character development. It seemed implausible to me that Carl would search twenty years for evidence that his wife was unfaithful to him, then just say, "Oh, well. Life goes on..." within one day of finding this evidence. Other than references to the war times, little of the interactions in the book developed the scene and time frame to an effective agree. I'd skip the book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously depressing! Dec 10 2000
Whatever could go wrong for the heroines seems to happen. It is exciting and almost satisfying to have your worst fears for these characters realized time and again, unlike most writing of mainstream novels. I'm not a mean or morbid person, but this book feels like an outlet for your fears and worries. The worst does happen and life goes on. Wipe your brow of its sweat and read on. Let something bad happen to someone else for a change!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Moves along swimmingly
I thoroughly enjoyed DROWNING RUTH -- from its memorable, engaging first sentence ("Ruth remembered drowning." How could *that* be?) to its quietly poignant final scene. Read more
Published on June 21 2005 by Sachan Armatis
3.0 out of 5 stars i thought it would be better..
i picked this book up in the library after reading good reviews on it from here. maybe its just me, but this book didn't live up to all the hype it got from some other reviewers. Read more
Published on July 13 2004 by "aquakit"
2.0 out of 5 stars WOW!
This book rocked my socks! I loved the way it was written and how it went back in time and then to present. It always kept me guessing. You have got to read this book!!
Published on July 10 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting title, but pass...
Not horrible, but really not that interesting of a story. The story is told in a way that shifts narrators and time period in a way that is not easy to follow. Read more
Published on June 26 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to "wade" through
Hmmmm, it's surprising to me to read all the other glowing reviews about this book. I'll admit, it catches your attention at the beginning, and keeps you guessing, but the... Read more
Published on June 12 2004 by "tarabky3"
4.0 out of 5 stars A Spellbinding, Depressing Psychological Thriller!
The story of a young girl whose mother mysteriously drowned while her husband was away at war and whose troubled aunt then takes over her upbringing (whew! Read more
Published on May 20 2004 by Hannah
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put the book down!!!!
I thought this book was brilliant. The character development made you feel like you actually knew Ruth and Amanda. Read more
Published on May 19 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars ----- What Secrets We Keep ------
Loved this book! First off, great book to read in the dead of winter. Curl up & get comfy 'cause it gets your attention. Read more
Published on May 4 2004 by Leigh A. Taft
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