I’m heading out to Asheville, NC today to see and hear Sara Gruen read from her newest novel, At the Water’s Edge at Malaprops Bookstore tomorrow night. This is particularly meaningful to me because I missed her first book tour back in 2007 when she swung through Los Angeles on her Water for Elephants tour. I’d read her first two novels, Riding Lessons and Flying Changes, and was already a fan of her work. By the time she came to L.A. I had already read and loved Water for Elephants, but I had no idea it would become a perennial bestseller, beautiful film and now Broadway play (in the making). It was simply a book I loved by an author I’d become acquainted with through an online writer’s forum.
Sara has since written two more novels since Water for Elephants. I think I enjoyed Ape House even more than Water for Elephants. Ape House starred a family of six bonobo apes living in a reality T.V. show, while its troubled human protagonists Isabel and John frame the story with character arcs that reverberate with the bonobos. An ambitious and multi-layered novel, Ape House effectively satires the voyeuristic inclinations of pop culture, reality TV, and pornography, with a one-two punch at animal cruelty, research/experimentation labs.
At the Water’s Edge is the first novel Sara has written that does not have an animal at its core. What it has, though, is the legendary Nessie of Loch Ness as the central figure in which the story is framed. Take a beautiful Philadelphia society wife, steam her across the Atlantic during WWII, and drop her into an austere Scottish highland logging inn, throw in war rationing and returned soldiers with wounds that show and don’t show, and top it off with an abusive husband and his sycophantic pal who are hell-bent to prove to the world that the monster exists and you’ve a glimpse at what lurks between the lines of this deeply nuanced novel.
It’s a great feeling to hold a book written by someone you know. I became acquainted with Sara through an online writer’s forum long before her first book was published—in fact, Riding Lessons is the first novel I ever bought that was written by someone I “knew.” I’ve gone on to buy dozens more from writer friends and it’s always a joy and pleasure to see their name on the cover.