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It is a quick read good for some brief entertainment while on vacation or commuting to and from work.

At the Water's Edge: A Novel - Sara Gruen

Although the book is very readable, it was a little too simplistic, almost like a fairy tale. On the other hand, the tale did hold my interest most of the time. There are several characters, and the author’s descriptions enabled me to picture them well in my mind. One of the major characters, Maddie Pennypacker, the wife of Ellis Hyde, seemed very weak-minded and predictable, often allowing herself to be manipulated by others. She was almost too naive to be credible, making foolish decisions under the guise of protecting others. Her family background was not up to standard according to the Hyde family, and they did not approve of their son’s marriage to her. Although she was financially well off, due to her mother’s poor reputation her social standing received short shrift.

Ellis seemed like a ne’er do well whose only accomplishment was his station in life which was due to his fortunate upper class circumstances. He was spoiled miscreant who ordered people around, expecting to be served and kowtowed to, at all times. He was an unpleasant person much of the time. One night, in 1945, after he insulted his parents with some pretty rude and disrespectful comments, both he and Maddie were tossed out of their Philadelphia home: lock, stock and barrel. Both his parents were just as arrogant and haughty as he was, if not more so, for he learned how to behave at their knees. He looks down on others beneath his station, treating the “help” without any respect. To him, they were unworthy of his attention.

Ellis’s friend Hank, seemed like an untethered soul, lacking any kind of grounded principles. He tended to make light of everything, hoping to smooth over even the worst infractions of behavior that he witnessed. Together Hank and Ellis were irresponsible scoundrels who had no idea how to work for a living and believed it was beneath them to do any physical work anyway, even the simplest task of hanging up one’s clothes was to be handled by servants! Both men were ridiculed for not being in service fighting for their country. They were classified as 4F.

Desperate to find a way to reconcile with his family and guarantee his continued financial support, Ellis and his friend Hank Boyd concocted a scheme to go to Scotland to redeem Colonel Hyde’s reputation. Years before, the pompous Colonel had falsified pictures and made fictitious claims about sighting the Loch Ness monster. He was found out and eventually disgraced. He was persona non grata in the village of Drumnadrochit, Scotland, where the monster is supposed to reside. Together with Maddie, they made the trip across the ocean to Scotland in a foolhardy attempt to film the creature. It is wartime and the trip was unpleasant and dangerous. Up until Maddie witnessed the sight of the wounded and was attacked on the sea, she had considered herself above the fray. Soon, she began to look at life differently.

Once in Scotland, they found their lodgings disappointing. Their friend Freddie had made the arrangements for them. The Inn had no electricity, a shortage of food because of the war rationing and when Ellis was recognized as his father’s son, they were a bit unwelcome as well. The Inn was run by Angus Grant and his two helpers, Anna and Meg. Soon, Maddie discovered that she preferred their convivial company to that of Ellis and Hank. She also began to suspect that both men had lied about their draft status and questioned their personal relationship to each other. She began to feel like their foil. When Ellis noticed her change in attitude toward him, he warned Maddie not to fraternize with those beneath her position. It would give them the wrong idea. If she persisted in behaving improperly, he threatened her with medical confinement and an extreme treatment for the nervous condition with which she had once been diagnosed, although Ellis was the only one taking her pills. She rarely took medication, but went along with the charade to save face for the Hyde family.

Underlying the major idea of the book, which is the search for the monster, there are themes of class struggle, homosexuality, marital infidelity, grief, loss and substance abuse. In some way, the book felt like a Cinderella story, without the pressing financial issues. The unhappy girl finds someone even unhappier, a grieving prince of a man, and they live happily ever after making out better than all those who once ridiculed them. The moral of the story is that good will out. Happiness is possible for everyone when all the ends are tied up neatly.