Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a big baby when it comes to cold water. My mom used to call me a wimp, but my husband is a bit kinder—he says that I’m delicate.
I enjoy swimming, but I have a narrow temperature range when it comes to full-body immersion. On average, 78-82 degrees is just about right for taking a plunge. Bath water, I know, but that’s the way I like it.
I grew up in a cabin on a lake and spent my summers swimming with my cousins. We’d stay in the water until wrinkled and crispy and would only call it a day when swarmed by ravenous mosquitos. Our parents loved to “swim” too and spent many an hour floating around in inflatable boats. We thought it was hilarious to tip them over, but the surprise dumping was never as funny to them. Imagine.
Despite a childhood spent at the lake, I am terrified of dark water. To this day I have a difficult time jumping off the end of our dock—and if the water is below 75 degrees, forget it. I always have a moment of panic when I hit the surface: I think I must have an innate fear of being grabbed by something I can’t see, like a sea monster or something. Silly, I realize, but you just never know what might be down there.
Maddie Hyde, a young, outlandishly rich socialite in At the Water’s Edge, still can’t quite believe that she’s in Scotland hunting for the infamous Loch Ness Monster. Well, she isn’t hunting it exactly, but her husband and his best friend are determined to put to rest the questions of its existence once and for all. They spend hours each day scanning the dark, frigid surface of the Loch while Maddie sits alone in their primitive inn.
Maddie must have been crazy to agree to this wild goose chase, especially during the middle of World War II. What she wouldn’t do to take back that one wild night of drinking and quarreling with her in-laws that led to their hasty decision to travel overseas. Now she’s thousands of miles away from her extravagant Philadelphia home with a husband hell-bent on making a name for himself. Denied admittance to the army due to colour-blindness, her husband has allowed his guilt and shame to morph into an obsession over a creature. His reliance on drugs and alcohol doesn’t help their situation and his mood darkens as the weeks pass.
Isolated to a point of near-madness, Maddie begins quiet friendships with the local villagers who gently support her while her marriage deteriorates and bombs explode overhead. She helps out with daily chores and learns to knit for the war effort; her husband photos wave break after wave break with hope of capturing proof of a mythical beast.
At the Water’s Edge chases an urban legend while a very real monster destroyed mankind throughout Europe. It is a poignant story about the fragile bonds formed between people seeking acceptance and understanding despite their differences; it is a story about tragic secrets, life-altering decisions, and the awakening of the human spirit during one of history’s most devastating periods.
Sara Gruen is the best-selling author of Water for Elephants. At the Water’s Edge is her fifth novel. Bond Street Books, 2015.