David Abrams's Reviews > Drowning Ruth

Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

really liked it

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 mysteries, so many surprises in Christine Schwarz' debut novel that nice folks will only give out crumbs of the plot. By "nice folks," I mean those readers who think prematurely reading the last ten pages of an Agatha Christie mystery is punishable by a jail sentence.

In fact, Drowning Ruth might just be this year's literary equivalent to The Sixth Sense.

Which is not to say that Drowning Ruth is a ghost story. It isn't. But yet, there are many characters who are haunted, you see, and--and--

Okay, I'm starting to get lathered up again.

[Deep breath.:]

There. I'm fine now.

From the first sentence to the last word, Schwarz carefully unpeels the mystery of what took place between sisters Amanda and Mathilda and Mathilda's daughter Ruth when they spent an isolated winter on a Wisconsin lake island in 1919. There is a tragedy and there is high drama of the kind familiar to readers of Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens and Theodore Dreiser (to punch home the obvious, Schwarz even has one character reading Dreiser's Jennie Gerhardt).

We literally don't know what happened on the island until the very last sentence, and that's what propels us with such page-turning, lip-smacking fury through the book. Schwarz does a masterful job of gradually uncovering details of the three women's lives before 1919 and in the nearly three decades following the tragic events. The story moves between past and present quickly and sharply--like someone flipping back and forth through the pages of a photo album. But even readers who are easily confounded by non-linear narrative can find their way just fine through these pages. Schwarz know when to give us a peek and when to keep the curtain pulled across the mystery.

Drowning Ruth bears the look of a book that belongs in the recent flood of what less-charitable critics call "chick lit." The fact that Ms. Winfrey has stamped her book club "O" on the cover doesn't help matters. But Drowning Ruth lifts its head high above the tide of mass-produced, Kleenex-friendly chick lit. Sure, there's a fair share of turn-of-the-century soap opera shenanigans and, yes, the story is strikingly old-fashioned in scope, but Schwarz's skill with words, characters and pace is so profound and startling that it becomes the sort of literature that sticks in the mind long after the final, shattering page is turned.

I simply cannot tell you enough about this book.

Except: "Here. Read this."

17 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Drowning Ruth.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 29, 2007 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Yow. Sold.

message 2: by Kasey (new)

Kasey I love this review. You're a great salesman. I only laugh because you sell the book with such a firm recommendation and only gave it four stars. I can't imagine your description for a book that is worthy of five. 😊

back to top