Both the title and the opening lines drew me in immediately, as I knew that this would be a tale about family secrets and the cost of keeping them.

Drowning Ruth [Hardcover] begins in 1919, with Amanda Starkey’s role as a nurse during the war. But from there, we weave in and out of periods of time, both backward and forward, learning the story of Amanda and her sister Mathilda, who drowned mysteriously one night in November later that year, and the subsequent journey of Mathilda’s daughter Ruth.

The details are slipped in during these moments of reflection, like “doses” of medicine surreptitiously fed to a resistant patient. Later we hear Ruth’s voice, as she ages, from the confused thoughts about family events and drowning to later moments of increasing clarity. For Ruth is convinced that she drowned.

We can see from the beginning that the relationship between Amanda and Mathilda (Matty) is conflicted. There is a close bond–they are almost enmeshed–and yet the rivalry is readily apparent.

Other important characters are brought forth almost casually, like Clement Owens: his role in Amanda’s life will not be apparent for awhile.

What really happened to Mathilda Starkey, and what secrets have kept Amanda from moving on? How does the truth eventually come out, and what ramifications will unfold?

In some ways, the slipping back and forth through time felt confusing, and yet it also seemed appropriate. Like floating thoughts that slip in and out of our minds, these snippets seemed to show us the nature of memories.

I had hopes that Ruth would finally detach from the enmeshed relationship with Amanda, but alas: she seems to become the clone of her aunt, falling into her same patterns, living on the farm like a recluse. An emotionally disturbing story, I know that I won’t forget it. Four stars.

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