By People Staff
October 16, 2000 12:00 PM

by Christina Schwartz

When the vivacious Mathilda Neumann drowns on a winter night in 1919, she leaves behind a daughter, Ruth, a husband, Carl, and a tangle of unanswered questions. With grim determination, Mathilda’s sister Amanda takes charge of the family and its farm. But Amanda is unable to control the suspicion surrounding Mathilda’s death, which spreads like a stain through her survivors and, eventually, through the Wisconsin community where she lived and died.

That’s the nub of Christina Schwartz’s first novel, which gains a prickly momentum as it closes in on Amanda’s devastating secrets. A cinematic if slightly surreal prairie epic, it takes its title from Ruth’s haunting memory of struggling in the water the night her mother died. If your taste runs to miraculous coincidences and primal emotions, you’re in good company with Ruth. (Doubleday, $23.95)

Bottom Line: Absorbing family saga