Let’s Discuss — Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz

I see I haven’t said enough. I thought I might omit this part, let it settle silently into the muck where it belongs, but it seems that isn’t possible. People want to hear everything, don’t they? Spy every strap and pin and hem. It’s not enough for them to run a finger along the scar or even to see the knife slice the skin, they must hear the blade purring against the whetstone (63)

Guilt, shame, mental illness and secrecy; all are propelling forces within a story which revolves around the death of a sister. In the beginning, it’s clear Amanda (the living sister) has a hard time revealing the truth. So she leaks it, bit by bit, through flashbacks. Amanda grows up the older sister to Mathilda, but obviously isn’t the favorite. Amanda was constantly compared to her more beautiful and charming younger sister. She also dealt with her mother’s illness more explicitly than anyone else in her family. Amanda must be the responsible one, while Mathilda is allowed to be a free bird. When Mathilda marries Carl, Amanda leaves to become a nurse, to start her own life away from the Starkey farm. But damage has been done and what she encounters in the hospital only worsens her being.

We met because of Private Buckle and then I killed my parents. Had I mentioned that? No, I thought I hadn’t. Of course, I didn’t mean to kill them, but in a case of death, how much does intent really matter? (65)

Amanda is the most intriguing character. At times the reader might pity her, maybe empathize…but I personally was more disappointed with her. Perhaps to work as a nurse, to see men with missing limbs and holes blown into them would settle her uneasiness; make her realize how much better she had it, or give her a sense of belonging. But ultimately, working at the hospital does her no good because she meets Clement Owens. Their interaction only leads to heartbreak and shame. Eventually, Amanda returns to the family farm, only she doesn’t realize she’s carrying more than hurt feelings.

There’s the underlying question of how Mathilda died. Was she murdered? There may be times when the reader thinks it was Amanda who ended Mathilda’s life. Her episodes–the things she said and did, or didn’t do all point to that conclusion. Maybe she did…maybe she didn’t. What kind of person blames her niece for the death of her sister? What kind of person let’s her brother-in-law think his dead wife was seduced by another man?

This is a story about secrets, dysfunctional relationships and the imperfect and twisted love of family.

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