Drowning Ruth


Drowning Ruth is a mystery, a story of self-revelation, a look at the mores of a town and its residents in post-WWI Wisconsin. It centers around drownings; two actually happen. Although only three at the time, Ruth remembers drowning, despite the continued insistence of her Aunt Amanda that it was only a dream.

What is true and what is a dream, a lie, or even a refusal to acknowledge the truth is part of the fabric of the novel. Told by three narrators, the truth appears to be at times as difficult to discover as a body in a deep lake. Amanda Starkey, the principal narrator, is reluctant to admit the truth about her life. Initially we see her as a nurse, exhausted by her work with wounded soldiers returning from the trenches.

We soon learn that Amanda’s exhaustion is not caused by nursing but by pregnancy, but the small town where she lives would not welcome an unwed mother. Amanda plans, with her sister Mattie’s help, to secretly have her child, but their plan fails. The child is born, and within hours Mattie is dead, drowned in the not quite frozen lake; Ruth believes she, too, has drowned, and Amanda is left with a human bite mark on her hand. Why would Mattie go onto the ice when it was not safe? Amanda‚Äôs version of the story is suspect.

As a look at the history of the period between the wars, Drowning Ruth shows World War I’s impact, in both the hospital scenes and in the many deaths caused by influenza, reflecting the pandemic of 1918-1919 that killed more people than the entire war. The economic situation and the difficulty of scratching a living from a farm also echo the harsh reality of that time.

From a narrator who is not what she appears on the surface to a picture of a deceptively placid lake where people drown, the novel plumbs the depths as a mystery is finally solved, and the final gift of love between two sisters is revealed.


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(US) $23.95
(UK) £17.99
(CA) $35.95

(US) 038549971X




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