At the Water’s Edge

Photo by Viktor Jakovlev on Unsplash
Book cover of At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

At the Water’s Edge

by Sara Gruen

(2015 hardcover release)
Pick up At the Water’s Edge at Bookshop.org and support your local bookstore.

Summary

After a New Year’s Eve party scene leads to confrontation with her in-laws, Philadelphia socialite Maddie Hyde finds herself in a tiny village on the shores of Loch Ness in the middle of World War II. Her husband, Ellis, and their friend, Hank, have hatched a scheme to mend the relationship with his parents by proving the existence of the legendary monster, which Ellis’s father notoriously failed to do years before. 

While Ellis and Hank struggle to keep up their high society lifestyle, Maddie grows painfully aware of the harsh reality of wartime in rural Scotland. She begins to open her eyes and heart to form new, authentic relationships and even find a little magic.

Review

Sara Gruen is an excellent writer (you may be familiar with Water for Elephants) and knows how to tackle historical fiction. This book promised many of my favorite things: historical fiction, Scotland, folklore, a strong female lead, and magical realism (it mentioned the Loch Ness monster on the dust cover!). Gruen successfully delivered on these promises, building a believable character-driven story. I really enjoyed reading this.

In the beginning it is tempting to dismiss Maddie as a shallow, spoiled character, but I grew to like and respect her. Our understanding of Maddie is deepened through flashbacks that flesh out her personal history and serve to deepen the personal stakes of the present action of the novel. 

As a work of historical fiction, At the Water’s Edge is perfectly pitched for the time. The historical setting isn’t just stage dressing. So much of this story’s plot and setting are dependent upon the reality of Scotland in World War II, from rationing to behavior expectations to air raids. It also delves into issues of class and gender constructs. 

Genre

Despite appearances, At the Water’s Edge is definitely not a socialite’s romp through the highlands. This is a character-driven historical novel with elements of magical realism. Maddie is young enough that I think this could be seen as a bildungsroman, as we learn more about her history and see her develop. 

Maddie’s story fits the heroine’s journey arc. If you’re not familiar with this alternative to Joseph Cambell’s hero’s journey story arc, check out these resources:

The Heroine Journeys Project

Judy Bower’s Jane Eyre’s Sisters

This novel is also women’s fiction, a relatively new term that covers many genres and is defined by the plot focus on a woman’s personal growth. I prefer the definition of women’s fiction provided by the Women’s Fiction Writers Association

“Whereas the driving force of a romance novel is a love story, a mystery’s is the exposure of an event, a thriller’s is a fear-inducing chase or escape, etc., the driving force of women’s fiction is the protagonist’s journey toward a more fulfilled self.”

Banner Photo by Viktor Jakovlev on Unsplash

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