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Drowning Ruth: A Novel [Paperback]

Christina Schwarz
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (299 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 31 2001 Oprah's Book Club
–The New York Times

“[A] gripping psychological thriller . . . In the winter of 1919, a young mother named Mathilda Neumann drowns beneath the ice of a rural Wisconsin lake. The shock of her death dramatically changes the lives of her daughter, troubled sister, and husband. . . . Told in the voices of several of the main characters and skipping back and forth in time, the narrative gradually and tantalizingly reveals the dark family secrets and the unsettling discoveries that lead to the truth of what actually happened the night of the drowning. . . . Schwarz certainly succeeds at keeping the reader engrossed.”
Us Weekly


“A strong sense of portent and unusually vivid characters distinguish this mesmerizing first novel about horrifying family secrets and nearly annihilating guilt. Drowning Ruth is a complex and rewarding debut.”
Author of The Pilot’s Wife

–USA Today

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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 an alternate 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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
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
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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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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5.0 out of 5 stars Moves along swimmingly June 21 2005
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed DROWNING RUTH -- from its memorable, engaging first sentence ("Ruth remembered drowning." How could *that* be?) to its quietly poignant final scene. The plot centers on a mystery of family secrets surrounding Ruth's murky memory. Along the way to its resolution, the author develops a psychologically sophisticated portrait of a family living in rural Wisconsin during World War I. Time, place and the personalities of some wonderful, idiosyncratic characters are presented in rich detail. This book reminded me of two personal favorites of recent years. Like CHILDREN'S CORNER by McCrae and SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS it is densely atmospheric, well written, and totally engrossing. The lay of the land and the vagaries of the weather become important elements in the story; the effect is to transport the reader into a vividly imagined world. Like *Anywhere But Here*, this book is eloquent in its portrayal of intensely ambivalent relationships among women: between sisters; between mothers and daughters. DROWNING RUTH should appeal to fans of many genres: family drama; historical novel; mystery and psychological thriller, to name a few. I recommend it most highly!
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By Hannah
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!), "Drowning Ruth" is well-written, enthralling, and...depressing.
I, personally, did not actually like any of the characters in this book except for Ruth and her friends Imogene and Arthur, and all of the characters just seemed so hopeless.
This added to the overall aura of depression that I felt eminated from "Drowning Ruth," but each reader will view its premise quite differently.
Despite its depressing nature, "Drowning Ruth" was an excellent psychological thriller, especially toward the end. The characters were fully and well developed, and the storyline was complicated yet extremely interesting.
"Drowning Ruth" is extraordinarily haunting, perhaps even causing readers to evaluate their own lives and relationships, as well as their deepest secrets.
I found that the changes in tense intensified my interest in the book, as I learned more about the past but could also keep track of what was going on in the book's present time.
This is one book readers will likely not want to put down. I'd highly recommend it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Emilys Review Feb. 5 2004
By Emily
The book Drowning Ruth, by Christina Schwarz was a fiction that is about family values, love and mystery. The story begins with Ruth remembering a vague image of her drowning. Her aunt Amanda insists to Ruth that it must have been a dream, even though Ruth isn't so sure about that. Ruth goes through the book believing, and remembering she had once drowned. In truth Ruth had drowned and survived, but she was just a baby at the time. As the book goes on it switches the characters views and you get to hear their opinions and they characters have flashbacks to the night when what Ruth remembers parts of what really happened, is revealed at the end.
In the story Amanda Starkey becomes too overwhelmed and goes back to her family's farm in Nagawaukee Lake. About a year later an accident happened that would change her life forever. She goes throughout the book telling the story and revealing bits and pieces of what really happened during the accident.
The book was really interesting and had a good twist in it. I enjoyed reading about the characters lives and how they helped each other get through times of confusion. Drowning Ruth affected me by helping to realize not to take anything for granted in life, and to appreciate being alive.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing Aug. 28 2003
I found this to be an extremely enjoyable book. Throughout the first few chapters, which took me a few weeks to get through because I only read a little at a time, I was afraid it would drag a bit, but when Amanda's big secret came to the surface the plot began to pick up considerably and I finished it in two days.
Honestly though, I wouldn't classify this as a psychological "thriller". Psychological, yes, dramatic, yes, suspenseful, certainly, but I never was terrified or on the edge of my seat, which is something I would expect from a book classified as a thriller.
Nevertheless, Amanda's obviously deep-rooted issues create tension and give the novel definite suspense. It's not hard to figure out how events played out on the fateful night, though the truth is slightly different than what I expected, but really, I think this is more a story of familial relationships between people with entirely different personalities. I found that the most intriguing part of the novel was seeing how Mathilda's death affected each of her family members in their own way and how they dealt with it. Amanda obviously felt a lot of guilt at not being able to save her sister. Carl alternately felt sadness and deep depression at the loss of his wife and heated anger when he began to doubt Amanda's story and questioned Mathilda's integrity. Ruth, who it seemed for most of her early life was told by Amanda how she should feel and think, finally had to learn to deal with her own feelings about her mother, her aunt, and herself.
I think in a lot of ways too it was a coming of age novel, as we watch Ruth grow up and try to break free of her aunt's grip and then finally figures out where her place is. Although, Ruth is not the only one who has to grow up.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I absolutely loved this book !!
I love how it goes back and forth in time too.
Published 2 months ago by amanda ettinger
3.0 out of 5 stars First half is great
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. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Canuckfcuk
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
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. Read more
Published on Nov. 5 2010 by Suzanne
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Grace
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. Read more
Published on Oct. 16 2006 by Susan Bock
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 25 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 11 2004 by "tarabky3"
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
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