Sara Gruen, the talented author of WATER FOR ELEPHANTS which topped book club lists for several years and made the transition to the big screen, has published another novel, which in my opinion, outshines WATER FOR ELEPHANTS. AT THE WATER"S EDGE, set in 1944, is narrated by young socialite Madeline Hyde. As Maddie relays the drunken, partying escapades of her husband, Ellis, their best buddy Hank, and herself over the first few weeks of 1944, I could not help thinking of Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom in THE GREAT GATSBY. When their poor behavior and Ellis's 4F status so upset Ellis's parents that they are banished from the family mansion, the three decide the only way back into the Hyde's favor is by succeeding where Col. Hyde had so publicly failed years earlier -- by hunting down Scotland's elusive Loch Ness monster.
While Maddie seems to be just as spoiled and superficial as her husband and friend Hank during the first events of the book, we slowly see a different woman emerge as the trio endure a rough passage on a cargo ship to Scotland. Once they arrive at the tiny inn near the famous loch supposedly home to the monster, Ellis and Hank continue their drunkenness and airs of superiority, never fully comprehending the great hardships the people of the British Isles have lived under during the entire war. When Maddie does begin to understand and actually begins to make herself useful, Ellis berates her for becoming too familiar with the "help." Soon Maddie's efforts change from simply being useful to actually caring about others, and readers will be as drawn to the little Scottish village as she was.
Ellis and Hank rank up near the top 1 or 2 percent of book characters I've hated, and the more Maddie
begins to see what a shallow egocentric creep Ellis is, the more I disliked him and admired Maddie.
Despite, never quite getting over the feeling that Hank, Ellis, and Maddie and the Hydes belonged to the American 1920's, not 1940's wartime (is it Gatsby that drummed that image into me or were the twenties so ego-driven?), I give Sara Gruen top marks for a well constructed novel and intriguing characters -- even the villains. I am sure AT THE WATER'S EDGE will be topping book club lists next year. I obtained a copy through Winnefox, our library system. The system has 44 copies (regular print, large print, and audio combined) and almost all copies are checked out with more than 30 holds for people waiting. As the word on this novel gets out, I expect the waiting lists will increase. If you are interested in the book, buy a copy at a local bookstore, or get your name on a waiting list at your local library.