(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Maddie Hyde has never gotten along with her disapproving in-laws, even (especially?) after living with them for the past four years. Col. Hyde is already embarrassed by his son's inability to serve in the war due to color blindness—he's even more outraged when Ellis, Maddie, and their best friend, Hank Boyd, cause an embarrassing ruckus at a high-profile New Year's Eve party. Tired of the spoiled socialites with their ridiculous, juvenile antics, the colonel throws his son and daughter-in-law out. Cut off financially, Ellis and Maddie aren't sure what to do next. Already alarmingly reliant on the anxiety pills Maddie takes occasionally, Ellis becomes even more addicted as his despondency grows. Then, he hatches out a marvelous plan that brightens him so much Maddie's afraid to voice her concerns about traipsing across the U-boat laden Atlantic in search of a fantastical creature that exists only in her husband's imagination. Determined to win his father's affection by doing what the colonel could not—proving the existence of the Loch Ness monster—Ellis sets off on his expedition. Always up for an adventure, Hank tags along willingly; Maddie, only with great reluctance.
Finding herself in an inhospitable Scottish village, lodged at a rough inn whose staff has little patience for the haughty Americans, Maddie's misgivings are only growing. She should have talked Ellis out of this little misadventure, even if he seems to be having the time of his life. Stuck at the inn while Ellis and Hank go monster-hunting, Maddie feels adrift. As the weeks wear on, with her constantly being left behind, she becomes increasingly bored and disillusioned with her often inebriated companions. It's only when Maddie allows herself to start getting to know the salty Highlanders around her that she feels a sense of peace, even purpose. Learning hard truths about herself and her oblivious self-indulgence isn't easy for Maddie, especially since it helps illuminate the most distressing revelation of all—her life is a complete fabrication. As Maddie makes these startling discoveries about herself, tension between Ellis and the villagers reaches a violent boiling point. When everything erupts, what will Maddie do? With whom will she stand? When the true monster rears its ugly head, will she become its ultimate victim?
I didn't love Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen's popular 2006 novel, so I haven't given any of her other books a try. When At the Water's Edge, her newest, started getting excited buzz, I hesitated to read it. Even a chapter or two into it, I vacillated between continuing and putting it down. Once the story got going, though, I felt nothing but riveted. Although the novel kind of centers around good ole Nessie, it's really not about the monster hunt at all. It's about Maddie. The gradual, convincing way her character transforms makes this story memorable and affecting. Gruen creates secondary story people who are likewise complex, making their plights just as absorbing as Maddie's. The intertwining of everyone's problems and personalities work together to build conflict that explodes in a tense, satisfying climax. While At the Water's Edge gets depressing at times, overall it's a triumphant, hopeful tale about finding oneself in the least likely of places. Despite my ambivalence at the novel's beginning, I ended up really enjoying this one.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for language, violence, sexual content, and depictions of alcohol and prescription drug abuse
To the FTC, with love: I bought a copy of At the Water's Edge from Changing Hands Bookstore with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.