The Edge of the Earth: A Novel

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Overview

In 1898, a woman forsakes the comfort of home and family for a love that takes her to a remote lighthouse on the wild coast of California. What she finds at the edge of the earth, hidden between the sea and the fog, will change her life irrevocably.

Trudy, who can argue Kant over dinner and play a respectable portion of Mozart?s Serenade in G major, has been raised to marry her childhood friend and assume a life of bourgeois comfort in Milwaukee. She knows she should be pleased,...

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The Edge of the Earth: A Novel

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Overview

In 1898, a woman forsakes the comfort of home and family for a love that takes her to a remote lighthouse on the wild coast of California. What she finds at the edge of the earth, hidden between the sea and the fog, will change her life irrevocably.

Trudy, who can argue Kant over dinner and play a respectable portion of Mozart’s Serenade in G major, has been raised to marry her childhood friend and assume a life of bourgeois comfort in Milwaukee. She knows she should be pleased, but she’s restless instead, yearning for something she lacks even the vocabulary to articulate. When she falls in love with enigmatic and ambitious Oskar, she believes she’s found her escape from the banality of her preordained life.

But escape turns out to be more fraught than Trudy had imagined. Alienated from family and friends, the couple moves across the country to take a job at a lighthouse at Point Lucia, California—an unnervingly isolated outcropping, trapped between the ocean and hundreds of miles of inaccessible wilderness. There they meet the light station’s only inhabitants—the formidable and guarded Crawleys. In this unfamiliar place, Trudy will find that nothing is as she might have predicted, especially after she discovers what hides among the rocks.

Gorgeously detailed, swiftly paced, and anchored in the dramatic geography of the remote and eternally mesmerizing Big Sur, The Edge of the Earth is a magical story of secrets and self-transformation, ruses and rebirths. Christina Schwarz, celebrated for her rich evocation of place and vivid, unpredictable characters, has spun another haunting and unforgettable tale.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Tom LeClair
Schwarz has invented persuasive voices for the educated Trudy and the homespun Euphemia, as well as the go-getting Oskar…The Edge of the Earth is skillful storytelling given welcome weight by the author's knowledge of lighthouse technology, tide-pool ecology, Native American ethnology and her narrator's proto-feminist psychology.
Publishers Weekly
In her impressive fourth novel, Schwarz (Drowning Ruth) illuminates the difficult lives led by lighthouse keepers in the late 1890s. Well-schooled Trudy (Gertrude) Schroeder abandons both her well-ordered life as a teacher in Milwaukee, Wis., and her engagement to childhood friend Ernst Dettweiler after she falls for and marries his cousin, Oskar Swann. An unconventional dreamer, Oskar decides to move to California to work in a lighthouse. Life at isolated Point Lucia is both austere and an exciting adventure, as Trudy and Oskar join chief lighthouse keeper Henry Crawley and his family. Trudy sets up a makeshift classroom for Henry’s four delightful children to study marine life, shortly afterward starting a business that supplies the illustrations and specimens she’s collected to biologists around the country. Schwarz captures fascinating details of how people survived in the late 19th century in such barren settings, but she goes off course when she introduces a new character, a mysterious Native American woman whom the children mistake for a mermaid. The disconcertingly abrupt tragedy that concludes this plot thread is disruptive, but fortunately, it doesn’t detract too much from an otherwise compelling period story. Agent: Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, William Morris Endeavor. (Apr.)
New York Times bestselling author of The Chaperone - Laura Moriarty
"From the start, The Edge of the Earth enticed me into its strange and isolated world – the jagged-rocked landscape around a California lighthouse over a hundred years ago. The details of time and place are vivid, yet the dilemmas of Trudy’s new marriage certainly transcend this beautiful novel’s dreamlike setting. And Schwarz is a masterful storyteller: perfect pacing, secrets and suspense, and characters who aren’t what they seem kept me entranced as the pages turned. If you want a story to envelop you, this is it."
From the Publisher
"From the start, The Edge of the Earth enticed me into its strange and isolated world – the jagged-rocked landscape around a California lighthouse over a hundred years ago. The details of time and place are vivid, yet the dilemmas of Trudy’s new marriage certainly transcend this beautiful novel’s dreamlike setting. And Schwarz is a masterful storyteller: perfect pacing, secrets and suspense, and characters who aren’t what they seem kept me entranced as the pages turned. If you want a story to envelop you, this is it."

"The Edge of the Earth invites us into the lives of a young married couple in the late nineteenth century drawn to a lighthouse above the forbidding cliffs of Point Lucia, California – an isolated spot filled with marine life that few have seen before and, perhaps, a mermaid. But there are human secrets too - and as you learn what they are, you will almost hear the crashing waves. Inhale deeply – you are there, caught in the roiling energy of passion, regret, discovery – and, always, the sea. A gripping story."

"Christina Schwarz's gift of detail makes the characters leap off the page and her expert handling of suspense allows for a cliffhanger ending that you won't see coming. I loved this book!"

"On a lighthouse off the northern California coast, a young woman discovers her husband’s true nature—and her own—in Schwarz’s latest thoughtful exploration of family ties."

"In her impressive fourth novel, Schwarz illuminates the different lives led by lighthouse keepers in the late 1890’s…a compelling period story."

“A wonderful story and a deep meditation on the meaning of work and knowledge. It’s also a compelling imagining of its time and place, making it a good choice for lovers of historical fiction."

“Told in brilliant detail, this is a memorable tale of an uncommon woman who embarks on the road less traveled…a haunting story."

Kirkus Reviews
On a lighthouse off the northern California coast, a young woman discovers her husband's true nature--and her own--in Schwarz's latest thoughtful exploration of family ties (So Long at the Fair, 2008, etc.). Trudy is no longer sure she wants the conventional future her parents have mapped out for her in Milwaukee circa 1897. What's the point of the education she's receiving at the Milwaukee College for Females if all she's going to do with it is make a perfect bourgeois home for Ernst, the family friend earmarked as her husband since childhood? When his cousin Oskar comes to visit, Trudy finds that this intellectual, iconoclastic dropout expresses her own restlessness and impatience. The next thing she knows, she's married and en route with Oskar to a post as assistant lighthouse keeper that he expects will give him time for his electrical experiments. Their only company at the isolated lighthouse is the head keeper, Mr. Crawley, his wife and four children, and Mrs. Crawley's brother Archie. These bluff, terse folks are not the sort Trudy is used to, though she does become fond of the children after she's enlisted to give them lessons, especially youngest daughter Jane. But Trudy soon realizes that Oskar's ambitions are unfocused and aimless, plus he proves to be arrogant and selfish as well. When his attention is drawn to a mysterious native woman the Crawleys call Helen, who lives in a nearby cave, Oskar sees her as his ticket to an academic career and ruthlessly plans to carry off Helen to a university. The fatal climax makes good use of the lighthouse's rugged natural setting, which is well-described throughout, as is Trudy's gradual maturation from a rebellious girl fooled by fancy words to a resourceful woman who thinks independently and can see value in people unlike herself. Strong characters and plotting--including a nifty final twist involving Jane--maintain the interest in a rather slowly paced narrative.
New York Times
"Skillful storytelling."
New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker - Kate Alcott
"The Edge of the Earth invites us into the lives of a young married couple in the late nineteenth century drawn to a lighthouse above the forbidding cliffs of Point Lucia, California – an isolated spot filled with marine life that few have seen before and, perhaps, a mermaid. But there are human secrets too - and as you learn what they are, you will almost hear the crashing waves. Inhale deeply – you are there, caught in the roiling energy of passion, regret, discovery – and, always, the sea. A gripping story."
New York Times bestselling author of Blackberry Winter - Sarah Jio
"Christina Schwarz's gift of detail makes the characters leap off the page and her expert handling of suspense allows for a cliffhanger ending that you won't see coming. I loved this book!"
Booklist
“A wonderful story and a deep meditation on the meaning of work and knowledge. It’s also a compelling imagining of its time and place, making it a good choice for lovers of historical fiction."
Booklist (starred review)

“A wonderful story and a deep meditation on the meaning of work and knowledge. It’s also a compelling imagining of its time and place, making it a good choice for lovers of historical fiction."
Bookpage
“Told in brilliant detail, this is a memorable tale of an uncommon woman who embarks on the road less traveled…a haunting story."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451683677
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 4/2/2013
  • Pages: 275
  • Sales rank: 1,451,274
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Christina Schwarz is the author of four previous novels, including The Edge of the Earth and the Oprah Book Club selection Drowning Ruth. Born and raised in rural Wisconsin, she lives in Southern California.

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Read an Excerpt

Edge of the Earth

CHAPTER 2

MY PARENTS HAD laid out a lovely future for me in Milwaukee with tender care, as if they were smoothing the white coverlet over my rosewood bed. When I was graduated from the Milwaukee College for Females, I was to marry Ernst Dettweiler. Our wedding had been planned, mostly as a joke, while our mothers aired us as infants in Juneau Park. But why not? Ernst was a sweet, straightforward boy who met life’s pleasures head-on and made clear that he believed I was among them. He was as dear to me as sunshine. As my mother said fondly, “You know what you’re getting with Ernst.”

We were to live on one of the newer streets west of downtown. Although a wedding date had not been set—indeed, Ernst had not yet formally proposed—my father and Uncle Dettweiler had looked at two or three possible houses, and my mother had selected the peonies she intended to transplant to my yard and the furnishings from her own house that would be mine. Of course, we young people were expected to have ideas of our own. Within certain boundaries, our parents were willing, even eager, to indulge us.

Despite all of this—or perhaps because of it?—I’d been vaguely but persistently discontent, as if a bit of straw had lodged itself in some unreachable spot under my clothing. Back in early September, that glowing time that promises such riches for the academic months ahead, our college president had given a speech in Menomonee Hall, exhorting us girls to be of service in the world. She’d drawn a loose but definite connection between a graceful translation of Ovid and a young woman’s ability to contribute to the uplifting of mankind. But the more I’d thought about it, the less convinced I was of that connection, or at least of my ability to make it in the ways others saw fit. President McAdams had stressed the contribution of home management to the good of society. She’d pointed to the teaching of home economics, the practice of philanthropy, and the creation of literature as suitable fields in which the college-educated woman might perform service. And there was Florence Nightingale to provide an example of more elevated ambition. But I knew I was no Miss Nightingale.

Miss Dodson, my teacher of home nursing and biology, had held me back after class one day. I’d assumed I was to be chastised for bandaging my friend Lucy’s head so carelessly, but Miss Dodson had pressed me to consider teaching.

“I believe it’s a good thing,” she’d said, unscrewing the limbs from the torso of her mannequin, “for a young woman to make her own way for a year or two before she attaches herself to a man.”

I admired Miss Dodson, with her bright brown eyes and uncompromising nose. She excited in her students—in me, at least—a sense of wonder at the functions of living things even as she exposed their secrets. She’d been afflicted with polio as a child and so walked with a bit of a hitch that seemed to keep time for her as she paced the front of the classroom, urging us to observe: “You must look, girls! Never assume; always examine!” While in everyday conversation she was rather reserved and dry, she had been known to rhapsodize over such things as “the clever lichen, which thrives where other plants would instantly wither.” We giggled, but only the most aloof among us could resist being caught up in her enthusiasm for and devotion to her subject. At her suggestion, I’d imagined myself presiding over my own classroom in a crisp white waist and black skirt, confidently sketching a heart and its attendant arteries with colored chalk on the blackboard.

“Why did you become a teacher?” I’d asked boldly.

Miss Dodson looked slightly startled. She was used, I think, to directing others, not to considering her own feelings.

“I suppose it’s because I liked school. It gave me license to live in my mind.” She gave a small, rueful laugh. “That was a far more interesting place than any other I seemed likely to have access to. Natural history obviously interests you,” she went on, setting the conversation back on terms more comfortable to her.

I did like the way that science, like Latin, seemed to make sense of the world (whereas history and literature, to my mind, were apt to muddle it). When we studied the plant and animal kingdoms, Miss Dodson was always calling our attention to examples of symmetry and efficiency and cooperation. And I dearly loved classification, the neat way in which the most unusual species had features it shared with others and thus could be grouped into a genus, which in turn could be grouped into a family and so on, until the whole puzzle of life, theoretically, anyway, could be clearly mapped.

Perhaps I would never attach myself to a man, I’d pronounced boldly, relaying Miss Dodson’s advice to Lucy.

“You mean like Miss Gregor?” Lucy’s eyes were wide.

I laughed. “Really, you don’t think much of me. Miss Gregor? What about Miss Dodson?”

“Oh, Miss Dodson. Yes, well, she’s a special case, isn’t she? She manages to put all of her passion into her work. Yes, I do admire that. But Trudy.” She’d laid her hand earnestly on my arm. “Don’t you think that she’s a little sharp? She reminds me of one of those crabs that backs itself into a snail shell.”

“And her eyes and forehead bulge so.”

Lucy laughed. “But seriously, I don’t want you to become like Miss Dodson, however much we admire her. That’s not for you, is it? Don’t forget that when you marry Ernst and I marry Charles, we’re going to live next door and run in and out of the back door of each other’s houses.”

The thought of remaining in those schoolrooms or ones like them, passing on what I’d learned to other girls so they could pass it along in turn, made me as weary as all the rest. As a teacher, I feared, I would be making myself into a link in the very chain that was constricting me, holding me back from a future that seemed to shimmer just beyond my ability to perceive it.

What had I wanted? I’d been sure of only thing: I wanted something that I did not know. Well, I’d gotten it.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 19, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Trudy has been raised to marry her childhood sweetheart and make

    Trudy has been raised to marry her childhood sweetheart and make her home in Milwaukee but she yearns for a more adventurous life and she falls in love with Oskar. He plans to travel far away from the Midwest and she believes she has found an escape to her preordained life.




    But she never imagined a life like this. Alienated from friends and family the couple moves to Point Lucia, California. A desolate outcropping between the ocean and inaccessible wilderness. Oskar is the new assistant lighthouse keeper and the only other inhabitants of the area are the Crawleys who are very set in their ways. Trudy will find that nothing is as she might have predicted, especially as she discovers what hides among the rocks.





    Schwarz is a truly gifted storyteller. Her descriptive style of writing gives this poignant story a life that was pure pleasure to read.




    She has created rich and realistic characters and placed them in an extraordinary place. Imagine days filled with talking with 4 other adults and 4 children for months and months on end. The tender only brings supplies every few months.




    Trudy goes from a life where practically everything was done for her to taking care of herself and her husband and even teaching the children. Oskar is a stubborn, selfish man. He has dreams for a great invention but he loses interest before any come to fruition. Euphemia Crawley is a woman hardened by her isolated life. She tries to keep rein on 4 wild, rambunctious children who have frequent “mermaid sightings”.




    The story takes some unexpected turns and this reader was surprised by the ending. I enjoyed The Edge of the Earth. It is a story that will stick with you.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2013

    In The Edge of the Earth, Christina Schwarz once again creates s

    In The Edge of the Earth, Christina Schwarz once again creates strong female characters who triumph in spite of difficult circumstances. Part mystery, part historical fiction, part family, drama, the story of Trudy's odyssey to a lighthouse literally on the edge of the earth is a fascinating and satisfying story with a wonderful twist at the end.  Schwarz's prose beautifully evokes the wildness of the California coast and the yearnings of her characters, young and old. I found it hard to put down this book.  

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2013

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    Posted January 22, 2014

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