Summary and book reviews of Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

Drowning Ruth

By Christina Schwarz

Drowning Ruth
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2000,
    400 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2001,
    368 pages.

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Book Summary

Deftly written and emotionally powerful, Drowning Ruth is a stunning portrait of the ties that bind sisters together and the forces that tear them apart, of the dangers of keeping secrets and the explosive repercussions when they are exposed. A mesmerizing and achingly beautiful debut.

Winter, 1919. Amanda Starkey spends her days nursing soldiers wounded in the Great War. Finding herself suddenly overwhelmed, she flees Milwaukee and retreats to her family's farm on Nagawaukee Lake, seeking comfort with her younger sister, Mathilda, and three-year-old niece, Ruth. But very soon, Amanda comes to see that her old home is no refuge--she has carried her troubles with her. On one terrible night almost a year later, Amanda loses nearly everything that is dearest to her when her sister mysteriously disappears and is later found drowned beneath the ice that covers the lake. When Mathilda's husband comes home from the war, wounded and troubled himself, he finds that Amanda has taken charge of Ruth and the farm, assuming her responsibility with a frightening intensity. Wry and guarded, Amanda tells the story of her family in careful doses, as anxious to hide from herself as from us the secrets of her own past and of that night.

Ruth, haunted by her own memory of that fateful night, grows up under the watchful eye of her prickly and possessive aunt and gradually becomes aware of the odd events of her childhood. As she tells her own story with increasing clarity, she reveals the mounting toll that her aunt's secrets exact from her family and everyone around her, until the heartrending truth is uncovered.

Guiding us through the lives of the Starkey women, Christina Schwarz's first novel shows her compassion and a unique understanding of the American landscape and the people who live on it.

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. But I did go home. The way I saw it, I hadn't any choice.

"March 27, 1919." That's a good place to begin. That's what I wrote in the top right corner of the page. "Dear Mattie." The pen shook as I raised it, splattering ink. "March 27, 1919," I wrote on a fresh sheet. "Dear Mattie."

In the end, I didn't bother to write. I knew I would be welcome. After all, Mattie had been begging me to come home for months. And what could I say? I had no explanation. No explanation but the truth, and I certainly didn't want to tell that.

The truth was that the hospital had asked me to leave. Not permanently, of course.

"Of course, we don't want you to go permanently, Miss Starkey," Dr. Nichols said. It wasn't clear whom he meant by "we," since he and I were the only ones in the office. It made me nervous knowing there were ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Throughout the story, Amanda seems to be alternately portrayed as either sinister and mentally unbalanced or as a sad woman who is a victim of circumstance. What are your feelings about her? Were you mostly sympathetic to her or turned off by her controlling spirit?

  2. Did you find most of the main players in Drowning Ruth to be complicated and not easily categorized? Who intrigued you the most?

  3. Do you think the author skillfully built up the suspense of the fateful night on the lake? Did you guess what would happen?

  4. Ruth and Amanda’s relationship is one of the most compelling elements of the novel. At times they are presented in a mother/daughter dynamic, but at other moments ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
New York Times Book Review

The vivid realism of the novel's setting adds depth to an already gripping plot. . . . Schwarz maintains her mystery with an expert hand . . . Drowning Ruth is a remarkable debut surprising, unsettling and sure.

The New York Times

...a suspenseful, unusually well-crafted first novel . . . a richly textured book with an enveloping sense of the sisters' Wisconsin farm life . . . she fuses this suspense with such strong period detail that Drowning Ruth creates a visceral sense of the forces that constrain its women's lives.

New York Times Book Review

The vivid realism of the novel's setting adds depth to an already gripping plot. . . . Schwarz maintains her mystery with an expert hand . . . Drowning Ruth is a remarkable debut surprising, unsettling and sure.

Time Magazine

…this unusually deft and assured first novel conveys a good deal more than thrills and chills.

Time Magazine

…this unusually deft and assured first novel conveys a good deal more than thrills and chills.

Booklist

With all the realism of a Victorian morality play, this much-hyped first novel plays the tropes of dark family ties and darker family secrets, tied to a particular place..... Unfortunately, the writing is stiff, and the armature of the plot is all too visible.

Booklist

With all the realism of a Victorian morality play, this much-hyped first novel plays the tropes of dark family ties and darker family secrets, tied to a particular place..... Unfortunately, the writing is stiff, and the armature of the plot is all too visible.

Kirkus Reviews

With quietly powerful prose and carefully nuanced description, a first-novelist creates a satisfying fictional world inhabited by complicated people painfully coming to terms with their common history.

Kirkus Reviews

With quietly powerful prose and carefully nuanced description, a first-novelist creates a satisfying fictional world inhabited by complicated people painfully coming to terms with their common history.

Author Blurb Anita Shreve, author of Fortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife
A strong sense of portent and unusually vivid characters distinguish this mesmerizing first novel about horrifying family secrets and nearly...

Author Blurb Anita Shreve, author of Fortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife
A strong sense of portent and unusually vivid characters distinguish this mesmerizing first novel about horrifying family secrets and nearly...

Reader Reviews
Andrea

drowing ruth was amazingg
I couldn't put down this book. You just want to keep reading it because you want to know what happened to Amandas sister on the night. Overall it was a very good book and I enjoyed reading it :)

Phyllis

Drowning Ruth
This book kept my interest until the very end - I wanted to know exactly what happened at the lake that night. With each chapter the layers were peeled back and you'd get a little more information each time - and that was about all the plots and ...   Read More

danielle

this was a ok book. i liked this boopk alot except for the going back in the past and skipping 10 years or so.......................

Student 01

I found the plot hard to understand because throughout, the reader is given different levels of story of how the main event happened. But these layers of perspective are slightly different, and it was difficult to decipher which was ultimately true ...   Read More

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