The unfolding flower of a family’s secrets

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The unfolding flower of a family’s secrets

I found this in a Bertelsmann Korea book club catalog, which has a few English titles in every issue. Because it has been translated into Korean, it probably will not be difficult to find elsewhere locally. But I suggest that this psychological exploration of a family is well worth the effort of searching for it.
A woman, Mathilda Neumann, drowned in a lake in the northern United States in 1919. The novel is a series of first-person narratives by her daughter, Ruth, her sister, Amanda and her husband, Carl, that gradually reveal the family strains and the secrets behind that drowning.
The paperback cover touts this novel as a “psychological thriller.” That phrasing, it seems to me, cheapens the book.
Schwarz is a gifted writer and plotter, this debut novel makes clear. The plot line is at once simple and intricate. At its root, it is the story of why a woman died and the effect of her death on her family, but the foreshadowing in the narrative is so skillfully done that the book seems like a delicate filigree at times.
In less than gifted hands, slipping in occasional clues about events to come can be either disorienting or blatantly obvious; the clues are either hidden too well or give the plot away. Schwartz prepares the groundwork well ― for example, why is Carl, the dead woman’s husband, poking around in an empty house when he discovers a penknife that is important to the story line? Well, he does it frequently. He’s looking for mementos of his wife because he fears that his memories of her are slipping away.
The sum of all this foreshadowing, hinting and the intertwined narratives is a book that moves ― make that “glides” ― in stately fashion to a denouement that is neither shocking nor especially surprising, but that left me with the satisfied feeling of having met real people living real lives that may be dramatic (how else would they be worth a novel?), but are also plausible.
Schwarz’s writing style is a perfect match for the description of what are for the most part slow-paced rural lives in the period from World War I to the spring of 1941. She does not gild her prose, but it has a feeling both of delicacy and of realism.
To be more specific, unfortunately, would be to risk giving away too much. The unfolding of the plot, as much as the ending, is a joy to watch.

Drowning Ruth
by Christina Schwarz
Ballantine Books
International Edition
Cover price: $7.99

by John Hoog
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