Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

Drowning Ruth

Christina Schwarz

Ruth remembered drowning. “That’s impossible,” Aunt Amanda said. “It must have been a dream.” But Ruth maintained that she drowned, insisted on it for years, even after she should have known better.

Amanda Starkey is a nurse—a brilliant one in fact. She’s known for having “the touch”, but recent events have brought her mental stability into question and has forced her to leave her work at the hospital. Seeking a change of venue, she travels to her family farm at Nagawaukee. Perhaps there she’ll get the rest and clarity she needs while allowing her to reconnect with her younger sister, Mathilda, and Ruth, her niece. Soon, tragedy strikes and mystery surrounds the shocking drowning of Mathilda and as the years pass, dark secrets begin to crowd the deepest corners of both Amanda’s and Ruth’s memories. What happened that winter night in 1919 that led to a young mother’s watery death? How much does Ruth remember? What are those horrible scars on Amanda’s hand?  Are they a clue to the past? But like ice, secrets eventually thaw and allow the truth to rise to the surface. What will happen to Amanda and Ruth once these secrets are finally discovered?

Christina Schwarz’s Drowning Ruth is an Oprah Book Club pick and I can see why. Oprah’s selections often involve dark, broody themes with complex characters and intricate plots. This book is wonderfully no exception. Schwarz packs her book with flawed and fractured characters who carry their own unique burdens and baggage. Schwarz is able to flesh out each of her pivotal characters amply (from Amanda’s old love interest to Ruth’s beautiful and vivacious new friend) and doesn’t waste precious words with throw-away details or pointless subplots. The story switches from past to present and from third-person narrative to first-person points of view of both Amanda and Ruth. It is perhaps these personal perspectives that give readers the most honest and raw insights into these women, the motivations behind their actions, and how each are dealing with loss, adversity, betrayal, and heartache. Drowning Ruth moves along at a vigorous pace with plenty of plot twists to keep the reader engaged and guessing. The farther you get into this story, the more you realize how all of Schwarz’s character’s lives are deeply intertwined and entangled. The result is a satisfyingly suspenseful and captivating read.

One of my favorite authors, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, wrote in his book The Shadow of the Wind, “A secret’s worth depends on the people from whom it must be kept.” Like Mathilda and Ruth, Amanda Starkey was drowning as well, but her water was the weight of the secrets she wrapped around herself. Despite her need to keep them submerged, Amanda’s dark secrets eventually found their way to the bright surface and as they emerged, they brought Amanda up as well and introduced her to the fresh air that only life and living can provide.    

Rating: 4/5

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The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County 

Tiffany Baker (Adult Fiction)

The day I laid Robert Morgan to rest was remarkable for two reasons.  First, even though it was August, the sky overhead was as rough and cold as a January lake; and second, it was the day I started to shrink.

Truly Plaice was destined to be a big girl.  During her mother’s pregnancy, the town began to take bets as to what her final weight would be upon delivery.  Turns out, nobody in that town won.  No one came close.  Her school teacher called her a “little giant” and Truly became known for her massive size and build.  Where her sister, Serena Jane, was wispy and beautiful, Truly countered with her girth and homeliness.  But with so many things, Truly simply accepted this genetic disparity as fact and actually said the difference between the two was quite easy, “The reason the two of us were as opposite as sewage and spring water, I thought, was that pretty can’t exist without ugly.”  So, through her own eyes, Truly shares her story of wickedness and witchcraft, of poverty and prosperity, of life and death, and of a very big woman in a very small town.

Throughout this book, I wasn’t sure whether to feel pity or pride for Truly.  Here is a woman who has wholly resigned herself to her situation and although she feels the occasional stab of pity, jealousy, or regret, her unconditional surrender to her circumstances is both admirable and heartbreaking.  Her friend Amelia may have summed up Truly’s attitude perfectly one day when they were both walking home from school, “Things are what they are.  You can’t change them.”  Perhaps Truly realized this early on in life and found that she’d be much happier by choosing resignation over resistance.

Tiffany Baker does a nice job at keeping her story entertaining and engrossing by throwing in several plot turns and twists.  Although there is a lot going on with multiple characters and their individual story lines, Truly proves to be a capable storyteller and manages to keep everything orderly and fluid.  However, despite an engaging story and a unique main character, there was a big plot hole that kept my rating at a four versus a five.  I found that Truly’s need for a cure and her want of one were at constant odds.  The reasons she stated for not pursuing treatment are legitimate to her circumstances at the time save one…money.  You can’t claim poverty as an excuse when you constantly remind the reader that you have a suitcase full of money hidden under your bed.  This was clearly frustrating for me, but not enough to override the valuable lessons contained within The Little Giant of Aberdeen County:  love the skin you’re in, be courageous in accepting that which you cannot change, and never think that you are so full that there is not enough room to let anyone else in.

Rating: 4/5

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