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Drowning Ruth

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  62,267 ratings  ·  1,921 reviews
In the winter of 1919, a young mother named Mathilda Neumann drowns beneath the ice of a rural Wisconsin lake. The shock of her death dramatically changes the lives of her daughter, troubled sister, and husband. . . . Told in the voices of several of the main characters and skipping back and forth in time, the narrative gradually and tantalizingly reveals the dark family s ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 31st 2001 by Ballantine Books (first published 2000)
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Oprah's Book Club Picks
27th out of 75 books — 1,287 voters
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Best Books of the Decade: 2000s
232nd out of 5,181 books — 24,972 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Stupid Oprah. I quite liked this book, it annoys me to find out that it's an Oprah book. It makes me like it less by default. Why do authors LET her put her name on their books? It's a shame.

"But a sense that there might also exist some entirely different destination, one that he couldn’t yet see but which lay just beyond the obscuring undergrowth of long habit and expectations, troubled him and kept him from moving forward. He had no idea how to hack through the foliage, nor whether whatever he
Grace (PickingonStuff)
I swaer, with some of the books being written today I could write a book about mutant kung-fu hamsters and get it published. The story danced around the central question: "What Really Happened the Night Mathilda Died?" After a while I just didn't care. The whole lot of them could have fallen through the ice for all I cared. The characters were stupid to the nth degree and there seemed to be a running theme of "Co-dependency is great!" running through the whole thing. The "big twists" to the sto ...more
Aug 23, 2010 Gaia rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Oprah
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 31, 2010 Charly rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: No one but Oprah
Horrible! Horrible! The only reason this gets a star is that we don't have minus stars. Not even reading this next to the shore could save this.

Confusing as you read to a fairly obvious conclusion. Second Oprah book while on vacation; she's having a bad season because they both were pretty bad. Did I mention this was horrible.
May 02, 2010 Carrie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Adults
Shelves: books-i-own
The last thing I do in the world is take advice from celebrities so when I discovered this was on Oprah’s book club list I almost didn’t pick it up. But the book kept calling out to me and I folded. Beautiful story. It reminded me a lot of “The Heretic’s Daughter”, by Kathleen Kent. Though completely different it had the same feel.

‘Drowning Ruth’ is a story of painful secrets, love for a child and a woman’s life sacrifice for this child. This is one of those stories that tugs at your heart and k
Set in rural Wisconsin between the First and Second World Wars, this story of two sisters and their children growing up on the shores of a lake is full of secrets, guilt, misunderstandings and tragedy. There's an intensity about the plot that makes it quite difficult to bear at times - especially the ending when so much is at stake.

As a debut novel, it's quite remarkable and I wasn't surprised to hear that it was an Oprah's Book Club choice; but I think it has its weaknesses. In particular, the
David Abrams
Drowning Ruth is one of those novels that gets readers so worked up, so lathered, so feverish that they run around pressing the book into the hands of friends and, perhaps, strangers on a plane, insisting with wide eyes and spittle-flecked lips, "Here. Read this."

"Well," the dumbfounded party responds, "what's it about?"

"I cannot tell you."

Exactly. Drowning Ruth is one of those books you want to tell everyone about, but can't. To reveal a little would be to spoil too much. There are so many myst
I'm having trouble putting together my thoughts on this book. The story was interesting and the mystery kept me engaged. I felt that some things were unanswered, and so I was left a bit unsatisfied. (i.e. I wanted to know more about Amanda and Joe's past, I felt confused about Amanda's "mental illness") I also felt that the transitioning from past to present wasn't always clear. The switching in and out of 1st and 3rd person was different and took some getting used to. The characters were intere ...more
The excerpts from reviews on the back cover of books are often gushing and raise your expectations too much. Other books are so hyped, that if you read it long after it was published, you may have heard so many friends enthusing about it, that when you finally get to it, you can only be disappointed. Then there are books like this one. I had never heard of this book nor the author, never read any reviews, and had been putting off reading it for a few months, in spite of the rave reviews from res ...more
Drowning Ruth was an Oprah book a few years ago, which just supports my opinion that Oprah doesn't actually read the books before they become part of her book club and go on to sell millions and millions.

I wasn't all that excited about this book when my book group voted on it in December, but I was pleasantly surprised with how compelling the beginning was. It started out as a mystery with very few clues, so I wanted to keep reading. But after a while what had happened and what was going to happ
Unfortunately the only drowning I was doing was in exhaustion. I never liked any Oprah recommendation,but I give every book an opportunity to impress me. However this book was so boring,it was extremely tedious,inconsistent and forgettable.

NOTHING about the content made a lasting impression.

I need to trust my instincts more.

Guess what? This book is about drowning. No really. The whole thing. I think it's some type of theme.
(This review also appears on

Not quite the worst book I've ever read, but it comes close...

Being an Oprah book club recommendation I expected this to be pretty good- she's usually spot-on when it comes to books that are sharp, witty, insightful and thought-provoking... But not this time.

Sorry Oprah, but this was depressing (and this is coming from someone who enjoys `The Road' and other apocalyptic stories). I didn't exactly expect a happy tale from the title, but good grief I coul
I read this book a few years ago and forgot everything. Now that I've reread it for bookgroup, I can see why I forgot. The characters bore me. They have no characteristics that surprise, delight, or inspire. The only reason I kept reading is to find out how Ruth drowned. Ruth turns out to be just as woosie as her Aunt Amanda. Her father is a woose too. The only one with any character (Mattie) is dead, so that should tell you something. And we know who Imogene is the first time she wants that blu ...more
Stupid Oprah. Stupid predictable book. I feel like an asshole for even paying $0.10 at the library book sale for it.
Leslie Callahan
I CAN'T do it! I'm of the way into it and I keep waiting for "the gripping psychological thriller" to start but unless I force myself to pick it up and read it I don't. I keep telling myself the last 50 pages are going to be awesome and pull it all together.... But is it worth my time for the first 250 pages - nope! ...more
This novel tells the haunting story of two generations of a Wisconsin family brought together and torn apart by the lake adjacent to the family home. Focused on four women, sisters of two generations, the novel develops around the sisters' relationship with the lake, and the tragedy that ensues when it claims one of their lives. Much of the book is spent untangling the secrets which led to the drowning, and working out the complicated problems which arise from the family's attempts to keep these ...more
Nov 19, 2008 Christina rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Christina by: No oneee
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Amazing! I think I drove my husband insane while reading this because after every page, I would put it down and exclaim, ""This book is crazy, babe!"" The author uses both first and third person to tell her story from multiple perspectives. Some of the negative reviews for this novel sited the use of both first and third person as their main reason for disliking the format of the story. I personally found it quite useful in the character development and that is where this novel truly excelled. T ...more
I wasn't as impressed with this book as I thought I was going to be. Something I always tell other people: don't go into a book with expectations. I should have listened to my own advice, then maybe I would have enjoyed the book a little bit more. But this being Schwarz's first novel, I'm not going to complain too much, because it was still pretty good.

It was a little too jumpy, just all around, writing, plot line, characters. While they weren't all over the map, they didn't stay on the same lin
Kristina Hoerner
Surprisingly enough, I liked this book even though it was on a very depressing subject. I will admit, however, that the pacing was too slow for me. I had to cheat and read the end fairly early in the book just to keep myself going. Nearly all the plot twists are predictable but I thought the writing was good. I did not know if I should feel sorry for Amanda or incredibly angry at her selfishness.
I usually write my reviews immediately after finishing a book so the story is still fresh in my mind. I finished this book a week ago and since I've already forgotten some of the major plot points I guess I can say I didn't think it was an "amazing" read. The plots of amazing books usually don't slip my mind within a week. Anyway, on to the review...
"Drowning Ruth" is a disturbing tale of woman named Amanda who is left to raise her niece Ruth due to the fact that her sister Mattie drowned when R
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
Not bad for a first novel. Kind of fun to read about how things were many years ago, and there are some big secrets to be revealed, so it definitely keeps your interest, although not "gripping."
Tinasitton Sitton
This book had a very good, interesting story with wonderful characters. However, Schwarz switches from first to third person and with in that third person,keeps the narrative distance moving in and out of limited and omniscience (within the same paragraph too) which is completely false. I don't mind seeing all these different perspectives but the way she presents them seems to be laziness or some sort of insecurity on her part as a writer. The story she creates is really a entertaining one (thou ...more
Natasha M.
Butterfly Effect and emotionally dysfunctional family is all I could think, where someone has a Big Secret and it eats at the character throughout the novel but somehow this secret touches everyone beyond the person it directly effects, basically ruining their lives. One must wait until the end to get the Big Reveal, in regards to the drowning. Both Ruth and Amanda (the two quasi-narrators, when the text isn't busy jumping back and forth between third person perspective and the first person pers ...more
This was a tough read for me. It starts with a very tragic event that explains very little, and then slowly reveals how it all came about. In a way it reminded me of A Light Between Two Ocean, only a bit more foreboding.

If I learned anything by reading this, it's that you just can't judge a person. At the end, I honestly felt guilty because I spent the majority of the book judging one of the main characters (Amanda), and basically disliking her. But when they revealed what had really happened,
Feb 10, 2012 Kay rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Nobody
Recommended to Kay by: Oprah Winfrey
There will be no spoilers in this review, as I found nothing at all to write about that, in any way, could save this experience for me.

I went in to this book thinking that it would be an interesting read, fraught with period information and excellent description. Unfortunately, as you start off the story, it immediately becomes confusing, the characters are incredibly one dimensional, bland, and uninspired, and the ending left everything to be desired.

It would have been much better had the snip
Adrianna C
Jan 10, 2012 Adrianna C added it
Shelves: mp2
The book, "Drowning Ruth" by Christina Schwarz, didn't really capture my attention in the beginning, so it took me a longer time to read. When I started reading it more, it got me more interested. I liked how it had switching points of view in each chapter. In the first part of the chapter it could be in the third person and another part of the chapter it could be in the first person. What I didn't like about the switching point of views is that in the third person, it would be what is happenin ...more
Aug 17, 2012 Cat rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cat by: Mom
My mom told me that I should tell my grandmother (named Ruth) that I had it, just to see her reaction (which was comical, to tell you the truth). When I saw it on the shelves, I decided it seemed interesting enough to give it a shot.

Once I started it, I couldn't stop. I read it in less than a week, I think. Every time I thought I knew what the "real story" was, the narrator would reveal one more thing, and it turned out my theory was completely wrong. It's been years since I read it, and the re
It will be interesting to hear what the other women in my book club thought of this title. Personally, while it took me a bit of time to get into the pacing of it, I really enjoyed "Drowning Ruth". I guess I just didn't expect such a tense psychological thriller to be found hiding in the pages of historical fiction.

Its subject material is bleak: The story of a young woman (Amanda) dealing with the shocking death of her sister, Mathilda, who drowned under the ice of the lake outside their family
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St. Anne's Readin...: Week Three 1 3 Feb 21, 2015 11:56AM  
Drowning Ruth 13 194 Oct 02, 2014 12:55PM  
Reading Between C...: Drowning Ruth - Thoughts..... 6 12 Sep 07, 2013 05:08PM  
Why was this book an Oprah Book Club pick? 2 41 Jun 01, 2013 06:09PM  
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