Amanda Starkey spends her days nursing wounded soldiers from WWI in a hospital in Milwaukee. Living an independent life in 1919 is an unusual thing for a woman of that time. Amanda finds herself completely overwhelmed and decides it’s time to return home to her family farm where her younger sister Mathilda lives with her young daughter, Ruth. Mathilda’s husband is away at war and the sisters run the farm and find comfort in one another.
One cold frozen night Mathilda disappears and is found days later drowned under the frozen ice of Lake Nagawaukee. Everything Amanda holds dearest is gone. Her parents have died and now her best friend and sister is gone too. All that Amanda has left is her three-year-old niece Ruth and she throws herself into caring for her with everything she’s got.
When Mathilda’s husband, Carl, returns from the war, wounded and troubled, only to find his wife dead and her sister completely running the farm and raising their daughter, a whole list of dark questions begin to arise. To complicate things, Amanda will tell him nothing of Mathilda’s drowning and young Ruth talks often about drowning herself, which only raises more questions.
As the story dives deeper, dark family secrets are revealed and the bonds between women - between sisters, between mothers and daughters - are examined. “Drowning Ruth” is as much a thriller and crime mystery as it is a family drama. The multiple layers of the story make for an interesting and suspenseful read. The questions asked early are not answered until the end with several twists and surprises along the way.
The characters had growth and depth to them. Amanda was a complicated, dark character and I never quite figured her out. Ruth is pretty typical for a girl her age but you can see there are dark memories buried that she can’t quite get a hold of.
The story does jump around between time periods which can be a little confusing, but it had a nice pace to it and kept me intrigued and reading until the end. The complicated relationships were as intriguing as the unanswered questions.
This was the debut novel for Schwarz and she showed a deep understanding of the human emotion. She expertly explored the bonds that tie a family together, and what the darkness that living with guilt can do to someone.
Though I haven’t read any of Schwarz other novels, “Drowning Ruth” would be an excellent place to start reading this rising author.
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