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Drowning Ruth: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – Print, July 31, 2001


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More from Christina Schwarz
Christina Schwarz's writing shows a deep empathy for human frailty that lends suspense and poignance to the most ordinary domestic struggles. Visit Amazon's Christina Schwarz Page.

Product Details

  • Series: Oprah's Book Club
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1ST edition (July 31, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345439104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345439109
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (619 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, September 2000: For 19th-century novelists--from Jane Austen to George Eliot, Flaubert to Henry James--social constraint gave a delicious tension to their plots. Yet now our relaxed morals and social mobility have rendered many of the classics untenable. Why shouldn't Maisie know what she knows? It will all come out in family therapy anyway. The vogue for historical novels depends in part on our pleasure in reentering a world of subtle cues and repressed emotion, a time in which a young woman could destroy her life by saying yes to the wrong man. After all, there was no reliable birth control, no divorce, no chance of an independent life or a scandal-free separation.

Christina Schwarz's suspenseful debut pivots on two of the lost "virtues" of the past: silence and stoicism. Drowning Ruth opens in 1919, on the heels of the influenza epidemic that followed the First World War. Although there were telephones and motor cars and dance halls in the small towns of Wisconsin in those years, the townspeople remained rigid and forbidding. As a young woman, Amanda Starkey, a Lutheran farmer's daughter, had been firmly discouraged from an inappropriate marriage with a neighboring Catholic boy. A few years later, as a nurse in Milwaukee, she is seduced by a dishonorable man. Her shame sends her into a nervous breakdown, and she returns to the family farm. Within a year, though, her beloved sister Mathilde drowns under mysterious circumstances. And when Mathilde's husband, Carl, returns from the war, he finds his small daughter, Ruth, in Amanda's tenacious grip, and she will tell him nothing about the night his wife drowned. Amanda's parents, too, are long gone. "I killed my parents. Had I mentioned that?" muses Amanda.

I killed them because I felt a little fatigued and suffered from a slight, persistent cough. Thinking I was overworked and hadn't been getting enough sleep, I went home for a short visit, just a few days to relax in the country while the sweet corn and the raspberries were ripe. From the city I brought fancy ribbon, two boxes of Ambrosia chocolate, and a deadly gift... I gave the influenza to my mother, who gave it to my father, or maybe it was the other way around.
Schwarz is a skillful writer, weaving her grim tale across several decades, always returning to the fateful night of Mathilde's death. Drowning Ruth displays her gift for pacing and her harsh insistence on the right ending, rather than the cheery one. --Regina Marler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

"Ruth remembered drowning." The first sentence of this brilliantly understated psychological thriller leaps off the page and captures the reader's imagination. In Schwarz's debut novel, brutal Wisconsin weather and WWI drama color a tale of family rivalry, madness, secrets and obsessive love. By March 1919, Nurse Amanda Starkey has come undone. She convinces herself that her daily exposure to the wounded soldiers in the Milwaukee hospital where she works is the cause of her hallucinations, fainting spells and accidents. Amanda journeys home to the family farm in Nagawaukee, where her sister, Mathilda (Mattie), lives with her three-year-old daughter Ruth, awaiting the return of her war-injured husband, Carl Neumann. Mattie's ebullient welcome convinces Amanda she can mend there. But then Mattie drowns in the lake that surrounds the sisters' island house and, in a rush of confusion and anguish, Amanda assumes care of Ruth. After Carl comes home, Amanda and he manage to work together on the farm and parent Ruth, but their arrangement is strained: Amanda has a breakdown and recuperates at a sanatorium. As time passes, Ruth grows into an odd, guarded child who clings to perplexing memories of the night her mother drowned. Why does Amanda have that little circle of scars on her hand? What is Amanda's connection to Ruth's friend Imogene and why does she fear Imogene's marriage to Clement Owen's son? Schwarz deftly uses first-person narration to heighten the drama. Her prose is spare but bewitching, and she juggles the speakers and time periods with the surety of a seasoned novelist. Rather than attempting a trumped-up suspenseful finale, Schwarz ends her novel gently, underscoring the delicate power of her tale. Agent, Jennifer R. Walsh at the Writers Shop. Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, Teen People and Mango Book Club main selections; film rights optioned by Miramax, Wes Craven to direct; foreign rights sold in Germany, France, the U.K., Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and Denmark. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Very well written book.
Funny girl
I just loved this book...its an easy read and will keep u engrossed from beginning to end.
Mom of four
I felt the characters were weak and uninteresting and the plot was too predictable.
"carynjb"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

261 of 271 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel -- from its memorable, engaging first sentence ("Ruth remembered drowning." How could *that* be?) to its quietly poignant final scene. The plot centers on a mystery of family secrets surrounding Ruth's murky memory. Along the way to its resolution, the author develops a psychologically sophisticated portrait of a family living in rural Wisconsin during World War I. Time, place and the personalities of some wonderful, idiosyncratic characters are presented in rich detail. This book reminded me of two personal favorites of recent years. Like *Snow Falling on Cedars*, it is densely atmospheric. The lay of the land and the vagaries of the weather become important elements in the story; the effect is to transport the reader into a vividly imagined world. Like *Anywhere But Here*, this book is eloquent in its portrayal of intensely ambivalent relationships among women: between sisters; between mothers and daughters. Drowning Ruth should appeal to fans of many genres: family drama; historical novel; mystery and psychological thriller, to name a few. I recommend it most highly!
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173 of 182 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I rarely send in reviews of books, but "Drowning Ruth" moved me to add my voice to the crowd. This is by far the most interesting and engrossing novel i have read in a very long time. I love it when I find myself sinking into the story, into the characters, and that is exactly the feeling I got when reading this novel. The writing is so good that it carried me away, to another place altogether, to a cold Wisconsin lake in the winter. Christina Schwarz paints such a compelling picture of the sisters' relationship that I felt almost a part of the scene. In fact, all of her characters are so vivid that i feel as though I would recognize them walking down the street. And the story itself is a page-turner. Anyway, BUY IT!! READ IT!!
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108 of 117 people found the following review helpful By Alan Cambeira on August 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
DROWNING RUTH is deceptively clever. What seems initially like the conventional, usually predictable murder yarn turns out actually being a meticulously crafted story of considerable artistic merit. The circumstances of the drowning of Ruth's mother serves as the catalyst that precipitates an intriguing flow of interrelated events in the lives of Amanda (the drowned woman's sister) and her niece Ruth. Christina Schwarz is a wonderfully talented writer who has woven a rather intricate tale of psychological suspense. There are many engrossing trwists and digressions (but quite necessary) in this very emotional marrative. The mystery is sustained throughout because the reader, as if carefully and thoughtfully fitting together all the jagged pieces of a puzzle, learns in successive chapters what actually occurred that particular wintry night so long ago in the past of both Amanda and Ruth. The writer does a marvelous job in pacing the delicate unravelling of the knitting. This is a thoroughly enjoyable thriller.
I recommend this book very highly.
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108 of 124 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte Vale-Allen VINE VOICE on November 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Yet again, based on glowing reviews, I bought this book and staggered through 338 pages trying to determine specifically why it's been so lauded.
While the writing is just fine, crisp and tidy, and the characters are well wrought, there's really nothing new here. Certainly, there are no surprises. The book begins in 1919 and ends in 1941. I don't know why. There are no definitive period details that set the era for us (aside from brief mentions of corsets and hair bobbing). No one seems to suffer any of the ill effects that so many suffered in that period between the two world wars. It's a tale, often told, of history repeating itself. Everything is telegraphed, so that one expects exactly what is delivered. The character of Amanda, whose voice is predominant throughout, is so irritating that it's difficult to be sympathetic. And her niece, Ruth, who starts out an interesting, quirky and determined child who often thinks how wonderful it would be to have her own store (a lovely touch), deteriorates in the latter part of the book into a variation on a theme of Amanada and ultimately is just as irritating as her aunt.
The secondary characters, Ruth's father, Carl, and the farm help, Rudy, are more interesting and sympathetic. But the author disposes of Carl about midway through the tale (and doesn't mention him again until the final few pages; and Rudy is merely retired off without ever being allowed any significant input--despite the fact that he's featured throughout the book). From that point on the narrative lumbers to its very predictable conclusion. As a first novel, it's a solid effort, but it suffers from a lack of oxygen. It's like spending a very long evening in a dimly lit room, on an uncomfortable sofa, with people you've just met, who are not gifted in the art of conversation. You can't wait to get outside and gulp down fresh air.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
What a great story! There are so many levels to this book. At the most basic; it's a powerfully engaging mystery that keeps you turning the pages way past midnight. But beyond that it's a totally engaging story about family relationships, love, and the power of secrets. Watch out for how the author peels back the layers of secrecy with simply placed statements that one by one reveal the truth as you learn more and more about the complex characters that populate this great first novel.
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