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At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen
(Author of Water for Elephants and Ape House)
Philadelphia socialite Maddie Hyde is not keen on sailing overseas while World War II is raging and the journey across the Atlantic is dangerous. But when she and her husband Ellis are banished from his parents' house and cut off from their allowance after a debauched outburst at a party, they find themselves doing just that. Unable to enlist due to colorblindness, Ellis is ridiculed and shunned by his father and society. To work his way back into his father's good graces (and his pocketbook), Ellis, Maddie, and their friend Hank become determined to find proof of the Loch Ness Monster, which his father infamously photographed years earlier. When they get overseas, they see first-hand the toll that WWII has taken on the small town of Drumnadrochit, Scotland. Maddie becomes immersed in the small town and the people who live there, and begins to learn that monsters come in many forms.
I really enjoyed Maddie's growth as a character, which was really the center of this story. She wasn't compelling to start - she was lost, a woman pushed around by her husband and his best friend, taking a back seat to their general amusement and whims. She really only starts to become the person that you want her to be when she is forced into spending time with herself in this strange place, and starts to recognize the hardships that the war is having on the town -- and that she could do more to help. This is where she really steps up and comes into her own.
Gruen succeeds in many of the same ways that she succeeded in Water for Elephants - she does a great job of painting the historical aspects of the period into a story filled with a little magic (here in the form of superstition and folklore), compelling and often twisted characters that you can really love to hate, and an interesting place setting. You don't hear a lot about Scotland during WWII, and I really enjoyed this perspective the same way that I enjoyed riding along with the circus in Depression-era America. Although the love angle isn't as well fleshed-out in At the Water's Edge as it was in Water for Elephants, it does still help propel the story along nicely. My only real suggestion? More Nessie! I really could have used more of the water-dwelling monster aspect. I'm kind of a sucker for that.