At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

By Ekta R. Garg

March 18, 2015

Rated: Bypass it

A young socialite wife embarks on a trip with her husband and their best friend that she takes for a lark…at first. When she realizes the gravity of the world’s condition around her, she learns that life means more than impressing her high society mother-in-law. She also starts to understand that she doesn’t have to fulfill the prophecy for her life set down by her own troubled past. Author Sara Gruen, known for the bestseller Water for Elephants, brings her readers a World War II period piece to test readers’ patience but ultimately entertain them in her new novel At the Water’s Edge.

Madeline “Maddie” Hyde lives with her husband, Ellis, in Philadelphia and embodies high society life, including the disapproving mother-in-law who doesn’t miss an opportunity to express her condescension toward Maddie. When Maddie, her husband, Ellis, and their best friend, Hank, make a dynamic splash at a party—where all three of them manage to put their feet squarely in their mouths—Ellis decides he needs to make amends by embarking on a quest. Years ago his father traveled to Scotland to look for the Loch Ness monster and suffered a deep embarrassment as a result. Ellis announces his intention to redeem his father, all the while reassuring Maddie on the side that he’s only undertaking the trip to appease his parents.

After a difficult sea voyage, Maddie, Ellis, and Hank land in Scotland. Once they arrive Ellis and Hank begin making plans in earnest, and little by little Maddie learns that her husband intends to use what started as a joke on her father-in-law as a way to get back into his parents’ good graces. If he can’t revise his mother and father’s opinion of him they will stifle his finances for good, and more than anything Ellis wants that money.

Maddie decides she doesn’t want to participate in Ellis and Hank’s ridiculous adventure. She begins to spend time with the help in the inn and gets to know them. As the lines between the classes blur, Maddie finds her awareness increasing about the world. Soldiers fight near and far in the Second World War, and Maddie starts caring about more than her wardrobe. Ellis doesn’t share her world view, however, leading Maddie to re-examine her life as a wife and a woman.

Author Sara Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants received critical and public acclaim, including a movie adaptation, but she lets down her readers in At the Water’s Edge. The first 40 percent of the book includes Maddie’s observations of her in-laws, her voyage to Scotland, and her general cluelessness about life. In a book with 46 chapters, the action finally starts to pick up around Chapter 21. Unfortunately by that time Gruen will have lost most readers.

Admittedly once the pace of the book picks up, the story does become engaging…to an extent. Those readers who stay around for the second half of the book will follow Maddie down a predictable path. While Gruen offers some entertaining moments in the plot, the false start of the book overall and Ellis’ ridiculous behavior may continue to turn readers off until the expected end. Even a subplot about Maddie’s past doesn’t really offer much in the way of depth to the story, other than to provide Gruen with a device that Ellis uses to threaten Maddie.

Die-hard Sara Gruen fans might want to pick this one up out of loyalty; otherwise I recommend readers Bypass At the Water’s Edge.

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