This emotional and subtle debut novel is a heartening tale of two
sisters, their lives and their secrets. Drowning
Ruth from author Christina Schwarz
begins in the winter of 1919 with Amanda Starkey tending soldiers
retuning from the Great War. Overwhelmed, she leaves for her
family's farm on Nagawaukee Lake to spend time with her sister
Mathilda and her three-year-old niece Ruth. Once there however,
things are not as peaceful as she hoped as Amanda has difficulty
leaving her troubles behind. A year after her arrival, Mathilda
mysteriously disappears and is later found drowned under the frozen
lake. Shattered by the events, Amanda's guilt forces her to care
for the young Ruth and assume the duties of the farm. When
Mathilda's husband returns from the war wounded and shocked, there
is immediate friction. The years roll by and Ruth grows up under
her frenetic aunt and begins to realize something dreadful happened
to her mother. The family splinters and the emotions run high as
the truth slowly emerges.
"POWERFUL . . . SUSPENSEFUL . . . RICHLY TEXTURED . . . [A]
CHILLING, PRECOCIOUSLY GOOD START TO A BRIGHT NEW NOVELIST''S
"-The New York Times
"[A] gripping psychological thriller . . . In the winter of 1919, a
young mother named Mathilda Neumann drowns beneath the ice of a
rural Wisconsin lake. The shock of her death dramatically changes
the lives of her daughter, troubled sister, and husband. . . . Told
in the voices of several of the main characters and skipping back
and forth in time, the narrative gradually and tantalizingly
reveals the dark family secrets and the unsettling discoveries that
lead to the truth of what actually happened the night of the
drowning. . . . Schwarz certainly succeeds at keeping the reader
" Us Weekly
"DEFT AND ASSURED . . . [WITH] STRONG CHARACTERS AND A PLOT LONG ON
TENSION AND SURPRISES."
"A strong sense of portent and unusually vivid characters
distinguish this mesmerizing first novel about horrifying family
secrets and nearly annihilating guilt. "Drowning Ruth is a complex
and rewarding debut."
Author of "The Pilot''s Wife
"RIVETING . . . A VERY SUSPENSEFUL TALE, ONE THAT WILL KEEP READERS
UP SHIVERING IN THE NIGHT."
1. Throughout the story, Amanda seems to be alternately
portrayed as either sinister and mentally unbalanced or as a sad
woman who is a victim of circumstance. What are your feelings about
her? Were you mostly sympathetic to her or turned off by her
2. Did you find most of the main players in Drowning Ruth to be
complicated and not easily categorized? Who intrigued you the
3. Do you think the author skillfully built up the suspense of
the fateful night on the lake? Did you guess what would happen?
4. Ruth and Amanda's relationship is one of the most compelling
elements of the novel. At times they are presented in a
mother/daughter dynamic, but at other moments they seem poised as
siblings almost, or even as foils to each other- especially when
Amanda speaks to us about her own childhood. How do you think
Amanda regarded Ruth? What, in your mind, was the real significance
of their relationship? Did Amanda truly love Ruth?
5. The lake is a striking backdrop throughout the novel, and
most of the traumatic or profound moments occur there: Mathilde and
Clement die there, Amanda forces Ruth to swim in it, Imogene and
Ruth both fall in love upon it. Do you think the author intended
for it to be symbolic of something? If so, what?
6. The complicated and varied relationships between women-
friends, sisters, mothers and daughters, aunts and nieces-lie at
the heart of this novel. Did any of these relationships, in
particular, strike a chord with you?
7. Do you feel that Amanda's jealousy of her sister was abnormal
or just common sibling rivalry? Why do you think the author
juxtaposed their relationship with Ruth and Imogene's?
8. Men hover at the edges of the novel. The three main male
characters-Carl, Clement, Arthur-though different, are all
ultimately ineffectual in some sense. Carl leaves, Clement
womanizes, Arthur cannot determine whom he truly loves. Even
Amanda's father is barely realized. Why do you think the author
created these male characters this way?
9. The island seems to be a very important metaphor. Both
Mathilde and Amanda become pregnant there, and it is where they
retreat to during Amanda's term. She, especially, is preoccupied
throughout the novel with this locale. What does the island
10. Did you like the continuously shifting narration? What was
the overall effect of this plot device?
11. Ruth and Imogene's intense friendship commences with the
voluntary loss of Ruth's dead, black tooth. Why do you think the
author chose such an unusual, visually graphic scene to mark the
unfolding of their intertwined lives?
12. In the end, does Ruth follow her heart, or is she still
under Amanda's control? Does Ruth return home truly of her own
13. Were the book to continue, do you think the author would
have chosen for Ruth and Arthur to unite? Why or why not? What type
of man do you envision Ruth with?
14. Drowning Ruth was an Oprah Book Club selection. Have you
read any other Oprah picks? If so, how did this compare?