Drowning Ruth: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club)

Drowning Ruth: A Novel (Oprah's Book Club)

With 815 ratings

By: Christina Schwarz

Purchased At: $21.27

Deftly written and emotionally powerful, Drowning Ruth is a stunning portrait of the ties that bind sisters together and the forces that tear them apart, of the dangers of keeping secrets and the explosive repercussions when they are exposed. A mesmerizing and achingly beautiful debut.
Winter, 1919. Amanda Starkey spends her days nursing soldiers wounded in the Great War. Finding herself suddenly overwhelmed, she flees Milwaukee and retreats to her family's farm on Nagawaukee Lake, seeking comfort with her younger sister, Mathilda, and three-year-old niece, Ruth. But very soon, Amanda comes to see that her old home is no refuge--she has carried her troubles with her. On one terrible night almost a year later, Amanda loses nearly everything that is dearest to her when her sister mysteriously disappears and is later found drowned beneath the ice that covers the lake. When Mathilda's husband comes home from the war, wounded and troubled himself, he finds that Amanda has taken charge of Ruth and the farm, assuming her responsibility with a frightening intensity. Wry and guarded, Amanda tells the story of her family in careful doses, as anxious to hide from herself as from us the secrets of her own past and of that night.
Ruth, haunted by her own memory of that fateful night, grows up under the watchful eye of her prickly and possessive aunt and gradually becomes aware of the odd events of her childhood. As she tells her own story with increasing clarity, she reveals the mounting toll that her aunt's secrets exact from her family and everyone around her, until the heartrending truth is uncovered.
Guiding us through the lives of the Starkey women, Christina Schwarz's first novel shows her compassion and a unique understanding of the American landscape and the people who live on it.
I read this book years ago, and recently picked it up again when it was a bargain read. I had mixed emotions second time around. While the book was well-written it was dark and disturbing. The book takes place in the 20s tells the story of Amanda, an army nurse, who goes back home to give birth to her illegitimate child. She lives with her sister and niece Ruth. Her sister disappears, only to turn up drowned. Most of the book is the suspense about what happens to Amanda's sister, Ruth's story and some sick and possessive family ties. This will not be an uplifting read, and while interesting, I'm not sure I can highly recommend the book.

- camila_thompson

An amazing book! Written to take place in the 1920s, it takes you back to the simpler life . . . although this story is anything but simple!! The story takes you from one scenario to another, going back in time with each character, and then to the present, never completing any one suspenseful situation until the very end of the book!
I had read several reviews before purchasing this book, some great and some disappointing. I have not found all of Oprah's choices to be my favorites, but really liked this one!

- kenia_miller

I'd like to give this 3.5 stars. I absolutely loved the story for the first 3/4 of the book. Then Amanda pulls the typewriten notebook pages from Ruth's purse. When Ruth informs her those are from when she made mistakes typing at the Owens residence, there is no discussion about it. Amanda simply launches into her plan with which she needs Ruth's help. This is despite the fact that several pages earlier the reader is told Amanda didn't know Ruth skipped school to fill in for Imogene at work. That plot error bothered me. The ending seemed to come upon us a little too fast and I was sorely disappointed when Ruth stayed behind with the verbally abusive and obviously demented Amanda while Imogene fulfilled her dream life in Chicago. I wanted better for Ruth throughout the novel. Overall, a great read.

- khalil_lee

I like unreliable narrators, which I feel Amanda is. Even when it’s not being told from her first-person POV, much of this is Amanda’s story and I took everything I learned through her with a grain of salt. Amanda, Ruth, Mattie, Carl, Imogene, and Arthur are interesting characters, and they kept me engaged. The ending surprised me, and I liked it much more than any of the variations I’d imagined as I read. The book felt a little long, which is why I gave it four instead of five stars.

- ellis_lopez

This story is told mostly by Amanda, who has raised Ruth, the other narrator, since her mother drowned when she was very young.. Amanda lives on a farm with Ruth. When her sister's husband comes home from WW1, he finds that his wife has drowned. He is frantic trying to find out if his wife, Mattie, had cheated on him because he sees a girl in the nearby town that resembles her. This is another strand in this unpleasant story. He has no plans to live the rest of his life on the farm. Amanda is so attached to Ruth that there is nothing else in life that she's interested in. A whole list of very unlikeable characters.
I feel that the story dragged on and the resolution to the story was very unsatisfying.

- reagan_cooper

This was one of the best stories I have read in a long time. So often an avid reader can predict where a story is going by the middle of the book-but Christina Schwarz really does a wonderful job of weaving a web that you just can't put all the pieces together until the last few pages.
The story takes place in Wisconsin and begins with Amanda, who is a nurse in the early 1920's, experiencing difficulties focusing on her patients at the hospital where she works. This is viewed as odd by her co-workers as she has always been viewed as a "natural" at her profession and well regarded by all. But suddenly she isn't coping, and she is unable to focus, and soon is becoming ill, and sleeping all the time on the job. The Dr. she reports to suggests she take some "time off" and visit her family back on the farm--he attributes her troubles to having recently lost both her Father and Mother. So off she goes, home to the farm and to her sister Mattie whose husband is fighting in the war, and her toddler niece, Ruth. This is where the journey begins and the deceit starts.........

I would recommend this book--it's a real page turner. I for one will be reading more of Christina Schwarz.

- zachary_williams

LOVED this book. The characters were wonderfully developed, with a great plot that always had you guessing. Suspenseful and emotional. You cannot put it down. One of my favorites I have read in a long time, I love books like this.

- lauryn_gutierrez

great book

- imani_hill

Great book. Happy with the price and quick delivery

- alvin_williams

Well written and a compelling story.

- harry_carter

I absolutely loved this book !!
I love how it goes back and forth in time too.

- saul_chavez

Great suspense through the entire book

- henrik_smith

I was drawn in from the start. I know some are going to like this book and some not, but for me, i was drawn into the characters and couldn't put the book down. It is slow in places but so is life. It has an interesting plot line and i found the descriptions clear, i would say simple to understand. I am dyslexic and i found this book easy to read, the content was not filled with unnecessary words, it was to the point but still creative, cleverly written. Not as if i have been to the US but in parts i can see the scenery as i read.
The text could be a little larger, i think a lot of people may find it difficult to read with such small text. I was ok but i could feel a squint here and there. The book itself does have thin pages and the cover is quite thin but the story makes that fade away, plus i did find it easier to hold due to the flexible pages (That might just be me though).

I think this is a good read for those who like an intriguing story, with a nice mixture of dysfunctional characters in. If you stick with the slower parts i think most will like it. I loved it as i could immerse myself which is rare for me when reading. I usually blank out through some chapters but not with this story. I would totally recommend for a holiday read, it will probably only take a couple of sittings or so to get through. Love it!

- kimberly_murphy

The book opens by telling us that Ruth was drowned. An intriguing start, and the narrative from her Aunt Amanda does pull you in. There is a dead younger sister called Matilda who was Ruth's mother, and the story of their childhood on a farm in Wisconcin is interspersed with jumps in time and to a third person narrative . I was interested and I did want to find out what had actually happened.I did not guess it either, the twist was clever. But the book is very very slow. The teeny tiny print does not help, it is a chore to read. I confess I jumped through a few chapters and found out what was really happening. Its a badly paced book but a well written plot with rounded, realistic characters. I will keep an eye on this very promising writer.

- salvador_reed

This novel is set in rural Wisconsin in the years just as World War One has ended and before a World War Two begins. A nurse, Amanda Starkey, falls ill and goes home from the City hospital where she has been working to recuperate. Unfortunately she takes with her the deadly influenza virus which is sweeping the world. This kills both her parents and she soon realised that she is she is pregnant, the unlooked for product of a disastrous love affair in the City.

She persuades her sister, with her tiny daughter, Ruth, to join her on their local deserted island, where she hopes to give birth in secret. Her sister promises to pass the child off as her own but things start to go wrong as soon as Amanda has her baby with rippling reverberations for the next eighteen years.

This is a psychological thriller that should appeal to anyone who enjoys this genre. The characterisation is good and the strictures and mores of the period are well depicted. Nice descriptions of frozen landscape by the lakes. Moves a bit slowly in places for my taste but a good read none the less

- estrella_walker

The premise of this novel makes for an interesting read. Set between the wars in rural Wisconsin, where the winters are hard, there’s an excellent evocation of the life and times. We’re moved back and forth in time to arrive at the whole story which largely centres on Amanda, Ruth’s aunt. I found this time change, though necessary to the story, rather dizzying at times, since we were moved to several different occasions in the past and through several points of view. The most disconcerting aspect of the paperback was the very small font used. I have no idea who decided that but on numerous occasions I put the book down to go and read something more comfortable. If this issue were to be resolved I would give a higher recommendation.

- jordy_lee

1919, the setting a small Wisconsin farm next to Nagawaukee Lake. Not far from the shore stands a tiny island, on it a shack. Access is usually by boat, but in winter one simply walks across ice. The novel concerns the night of a mysterious birth and death, both to have consequences many years later.

The start is most atmospheric, surely promise of a gripping, psychological read. Mattie and Amanda are sisters, the latter disturbingly unstable. Mattie's daughter Ruth seems also a trifle unhinged - later declared by one character "the Devil's child". Shortly limping back from war is Mattie's husband Carl, all not to be as he had hoped....

Sadly as the novel progresses, it steadily ceases to hold. Too much is made of too little, the telling far longer than 276 pages suggests - print very small and far from user-friendly. Contributions from Amanda and Ruth are clearly indicated, but with only the briefest of gaps there is suddenly third person narrative going back and forth in time. This frustrates. All (eventually) leads to what is probably intended as a major revelation, one that many readers are likely to have assumed much earlier on.

Overall? A promising initial storyline. For greater impact, considerable editing and larger print badly needed.

- elisabeth_howard

Publicity blurb for ‘Drowning Ruth’ is impressive, and the novel’s first sentence reading “Ruth remembered drowning” immediately caught my attention. However the telling of the story does not live up to my expectations, as it is laboriously slow and it lacks any real suspense.

Title character Ruth is an unusual child harbouring strange memories after her mother Mathilda drowns and she grows up with a disturbed aunt Amanda. Much of the story is credited to Ruth and Amanda, but though there are other associated characters with narrative moving backwards and forwards, there are only glimpses of what happened to Mathilda.

‘Drowning Ruth’ may be an unsettling psychological thriller to some, but it is too drawn out and not intense enough for me, leaving me disappointed. I rate it ‘average’ at best, and hence 3 star rating.

- melany_alvarez

I really enjoyed this book and read it at a single sitting, despite the print being far too small and the paper being so thin you can see the print of the previous/following page through the paper.
The relationships between the characters are finely drawn and totally believable - right near the start, Amanda's father catches her taking food from the 'fridge between meals, which she has been forbidden to do. The relationship between them is vivid. As someone who has never been to America, the setting was at once strange and familiar, and the aftermath of WW1 totally believable. Time shifts back and forth with no confusion. Secrets are hidden and revealed, and the ending is like the last chord of a much loved, song.


- maren_allen

I found it very confusing going from different years and back and forth.The writing was good however it has taken me ages really to get into it.
I like a good crime or thriller but this was neither.
Instead I could not wait for the end to find out what really happened.
I will not go into the story as it would give a lot away.
All I can say is that it was not a book for me just too too confusing

- riya_bennet

Set in America at the end of the First World War, 'Drowning Ruth' tells the story of Amanda Starkey, a young woman who has been working in the city as a nurse but has returned home under something of a cloud and goes to stay with her sister Mattie, who lives on a farm with her baby daughter, Ruth. When tragedy befalls them and Mattie drowns, Amanda is left to raise baby Ruth, but in time other, darker secrets emerge, and the truth of what happened the night Mattie drowned is finally revealed.

Compelling and not shying away from having unsympathetic characters, this was an interesting read, with a twisty yet plausible plot.

- tori_castillo

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