I'm a Sara Gruen fan, although I'm not going to try to out-hipster anyone by claiming I read her before Water For Elephants got big. Obviously, everyone and their dog read that book and saw the movie, so saying Gruen is a talented and imaginative writer doesn't count as breaking news.
But it is cause for excitement when such a popular author releases a new book. I was eager to get my hands on At the Water's Edge even before I knew it was about searching for the Loch Ness monster. And while maybe my expectations were a bit too high, at least the premise of Gruen's latest holds plenty of interest.
Maddie and her husband Ellis have been living the good life on his parents' dime: partying until all hours and then sleeping in to rest up for the next night's festivities. But when a dispute arises between Ellis and his previously indulgent parents, Maddie and Ellis and their friend Hank set off on a whim for Scotland, where they plan to achieve fame and fortune in pursuit of the Loch Ness monster.
Theirs is a bad plan for lots of reasons, chief among them being that WWII is in full swing. The spoiled, oblivious Americans traipse into a small town near the loch and take up residence in the local inn, expecting to be accommodated in every possible way. Ellis quickly reveals himself to be a louse of a husband, selfish, brash, uncaring, and most unforgivably, cowardly.
No matter how bad Ellis gets, though, I had a hard time feeling terribly sorry for Maddie because she herself is such a whiny, entitled twit. Sometimes unlikeable characters really work for me; this time, for whatever reason, Maddie just didn't. Her overly prim, hand-wringy voice grated. For most of the book, I felt like she deserved the husband she got. However, to Maddie's credit, she manages to adapt to their situation, proving she's willing to listen to the wisdom of others and eager to make herself useful during wartime. I just can't help but think a third-person narration would have provided some much-needed distance from Maddie's narrow, frustrating perspective.
Ultimately I'd recommend Gruen's other books over this one, but for her considerable established fan base, At the Water's Edge will be a welcome addition to her body of work.
With regards to Random House and NetGalley for the advance copy. On sale March 31.