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Drowning Ruth

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  68,081 Ratings  ·  2,103 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 ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 31st 2001 by Ballantine Books (first published 2000)
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Dec 25, 2013 Tory rated it really liked it
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
Nov 03, 2015 Gracie rated it did not like it
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 ...more
Aug 23, 2010 Gaia rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Oprah
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 02, 2010 Carrie rated it really liked it
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
Aug 31, 2010 Charly rated it did not like it
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.
David Abrams
Jun 10, 2010 David Abrams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 19, 2013 Brian rated it liked it
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
Apr 02, 2011 Haley rated it liked it
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 ...more
Jan 28, 2010 Melonie rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jan 17, 2015 Michael rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Apr 14, 2011 smetchie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to smetchie by: Laura
Guess what? This book is about drowning. No really. The whole thing. I think it's some type of theme.
Jul 13, 2012 Jenna rated it it was ok
Stupid Oprah. Stupid predictable book. I feel like an asshole for even paying $0.10 at the library book sale for it.
Aug 01, 2012 Bookguide rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sep 03, 2013 Tiffanie rated it did not like it
Shelves: bookgroup, fiction
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
Apr 11, 2012 MyGoodBookshelf rated it did not like it
(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
Aug 01, 2011 Corrinne rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Kristina Hoerner
Jul 09, 2008 Kristina Hoerner rated it really liked it
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.
Leslie Callahan
Feb 28, 2014 Leslie Callahan rated it did not like it
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I CAN'T do it! I'm ⅓ 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!
Oct 08, 2016 Lauren rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-read
It's a cold winter, on a lonely island when Mathilda drowns, leaving her child Ruth with sister Amanda to take care of her. Ruth's father eventually returns from the war and the three have to learn how to live with each other. Even though Ruth was only a few years old, she has a few fragmented memories including her being in the water and there being a baby. The rest of the book is Ruth piecing these memories together as she grows older under Amanda and her dad's watchful eye.

I've had bad luck
Nov 19, 2008 Christina rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Christina by: No oneee
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 03, 2009 Laurie rated it really liked it
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
Jun 12, 2007 Sammy rated it liked it
Shelves: c-the-okay
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
Char Freund
Aug 21, 2016 Char Freund rated it liked it
Oh what a tangled web we weave...

And just like a spider web, the book drew me into the underlying tangled story. The imperfect characters were believable for their reactions considering the time period and considering each person's childhood. And as time goes on I realize that every family has its secrets. (Or could that just be my concurrent interest in geneolgy?) The plot unfolded in layers keeping interest surrounding the underlying mystery. And despite some reviews, I did find it a good stor
Sep 12, 2013 Almeta rated it really liked it
First apprehension, then empathy, then outrage, justification, disgust…I was on a roller-coaster.

Can’t say the book gave me many happy moments; it kept me on edge waiting, with anticipation and dread, to see what was coming next to twist my theories out of whack. (view spoiler)

The miserly disclosure of bits of a mystery, given from several points of view, had me tense
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."
Feb 27, 2015 Nancy rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Oct 15, 2013 Teresa rated it liked it
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,
Aug 17, 2012 Cat rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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 ...more
Tinasitton Sitton
Dec 31, 2009 Tinasitton Sitton rated it it was ok
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 ...more
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