Book Review: At the Water’s Edge, by Sara Gruen

*Disclosure: I received an early copy of this book from NetGalley. No other compensation was received. All opinions expressed are honest and my own. Affiliate links appear in post.

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book cover Adult Fiction Book Review At the Water's Edge by Sara GruenAs a fan of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, I was hoping for something I could cheer about with her newest book, At the Water’s Edge. Unfortunately, the shallow, predictable story left something to be desired.

The first third of At the Water’s Edge is spent introducing three incredibly spoiled, self-absorbed, privileged best friends – Hank, Ellis, and Maddie. They are part of the elite Philadelphia upper crust, each burdened with a particular shame – Maddie’s scandalous mother, Hank’s philandering ways, and Ellis’ color-blindness, which as a disability keeps him from fighting while World War II rages across the Atlantic.

They also each come from entirely unloving families, have squandered away opportunities at a decent education, and frankly, seem about the most foolish and unlikable characters I’ve met in fiction in a long time.

Oh, and Ellis is obsessed with the Loch Ness monster.

Despite Gruen’s exposition on how Nessie figures into Ellis’ life and ultimately his search for self-worth and parental approval, it just feels so random, even to the very end of the book. I suppose it’s meant to bring a magical, mysterious element to the book, but it felt – at best – like a plot device, a bare mechanic of the story.

But yes, indeed, it’s the Loch Ness monster that improbably propels these three on a supply vessel across German-infested waters during World War II in search of an adventure. Because, apparently, only in a foreign land during war time could Maddie discover what a truly disgusting person her husband was, and make her own transformation into a person with an ounce of integrity or character.

At the Water’s Edge read like a movie to me, very visual, fast-paced, but also full of holes. Gruen can write so much better than this. After the threesome arrives in Ireland, we meet a cast of local characters who are pleasing enough, but 2-dimensional. And everything proceeds in a fairly loose, predictable manner, with a very convenient end.

Was the At the Water’s Edge awful? Not necessarily. It was enjoyable enough, as long as you understand you’re getting into what is essentially “chick lit,” heavy on the fluff and light on thoughtful plot or characters. I mentioned this read like a movie to me – if it were a movie, it’s definitely one I’d wait for on DVD.