Although the timeframe of Sara Gruen’s At The Water’s Edge spans World War II, her story combines the societal flavor of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby with the Scottish mysticism of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander in an adventure that includes the pursuit of the Loch Ness monster. The cruel realities of war combine with romance and some shocking reminders of the vulnerability of women and the power of suggestion. With the same ease as her popular Water for Elephants, Gruen has created a story with convenient events resulting in a satisfying, if predictable, read, and, of course, a happy ending.
After disgracing themselves with raucous and drunken behavior at a Philadelphia society party, Maddie and her husband Ellis are disinherited by Ellis’s father, and book an ocean voyage to Scotland – in the middle of submarine warfare. Ellis, with the help of his wealthy friend Hank, decide to prove the existence of the Loch Ness monster in an attempt to exonerate their reputations. As the tale unfolds, each character’s vulnerabilities are revealed: Ellis’ s father’s fabrication of pictures taken years earlier, claiming his discovery of the monster; Ellis faking color-blindness to avoid going to war; Maddie not saving her mother from drowning. Through gunfire and a sunken ship, they venture to the Scottish Highlands, where the tale takes on new characters and a little mystery – as well as a tall muscular red-headed Scotsman, who survived battle to become the laird of the castle.
Deserted by Ellis and Hank as they search for the Loch Ness monster, Maddie discovers her inner strength and some hidden talents, with the help of the cook and the housekeeper who befriend her. Eventually, Maddie trades her vulnerability and dependence for courage and stamina and falls in love with Angus, the virile Scotsman. The descriptions of the beauty of the Highlands and the mystery of the Loch only add to the drama.
The ending is a little too neatly resolved, but it does make for the happily-ever-after scenario – and Maddie does not have to travel back in time to get it.