Water’s Edge is a book that I saw promoted in a social media group I belong to. I was in the mood for a light romance, and the premise really appealed to me, so, off to Amazon I went. The blurb reads:
Nora has a comfortable home and a successful fiancé, but her seemingly ideal life feels more like a prison than a fairy tale. So when Nora inherits her late uncle’s home in a small southeast Alaskan town, she leaves behind everything she’s ever known in search of something better. Tucked away from the rest of the world, in a land where one false step can mean the difference between life and death, Nora must learn how to rely on herself for survival… and to open her heart to new possibilities.
There is a lot to like about this book. First, it’s the rare romance that takes place in Alaska! The descriptions of the geography, of the Southern Inner Passage of Alaska, are really well crafted. I’ve always wanted to visit Alaska, and feel like I was given a literary glimpse of what it looks like. Ms. McArdle seems to really know where she’s set her story and describes it beautifully. I found myself, over and over, wanting to see the places she describes for myself. Nora, the protagonist, is a very likable woman. She does seem to have had more life experience than most young women at 25 years, though. Jake is a very likeable man. He’s handsome, capable and friendly. There are the misunderstandings that make for a bumpy start in the romance, and another misunderstanding that disrupts their blooming romance, but everything ultimately turns out well. The story is easy to read, light and comfortable.
I did have some trouble with the book, though. The biggest problem I had was with the premise that a 25 year old L.A. transplant feels like she can adapt to living alone on a small island off the coast of Alaska. That one issue led to the other questions I was left with. All we are told about her history relates to a failed engagement to someone that sounds like the worst kind of superficial, overbearing creep. It just didn’t seem reasonable to me that she would feel confident that she’ll be able to not only adapt during summer, but also be able to survive an Alaska winter, no matter how mild that winter might seem to someone accustomed to dramatic seasonal changes. More background that supports her resilience and strength would be helpful. As an example, her new home is only accessible via a small boat that she has to learn to operate in a single lesson, or be stranded without supplies in an unheated cabin with no running water or electricity. While this is not really much of a problem in the summertime, Alaska summers are short and they will be a much bigger problem when cold weather sets in. Maybe there’s something about her upbringing that gives her the confidence to take that on.
I was also particularly struck by the how dangerous some of Nora’s activities would be, if attempted in real life. For example, Nora attempts to chop her own firewood with an ax, without having done it before and without having been taught how by someone else. As far as we can tell, she’s never even seen it done. Maybe another character could have provided some basic lessons on managing her new home — lighting a fire, chopping wood, hauling water. The juxtaposition of the danger and Nora’s lack of experience, and her stubbornness at accepting help made it difficult for me to believe in her. Throughout most of the book, I kept expecting something REALLY awful to happen to her, and while she has a couple of pretty frightening / dangerous experiences, I never was fully convinced that she understood the stakes of the change she was making. Apart from a few passing thoughts about Jake being able to help her, before they are involved with each other, (what if it turns out he doesn’t want to?), Nora seems unconcerned that winter will be really challenging, or assumes that Jake will help. I found details like that distracting from the overall story.
Jake is a handsome, friendly, capable young man who finds Nora irresistible after getting over his initial impression that she’s a spoiled, pampered brat. While Nora is really not those things, I think the story would have benefited from a little more of Jake having a bad opinion of Nora, and having his opinion changed more slowly. Again, more details on how Nora worked to fit in (did she buy more than a raincoat and boots at the General Store?) would have helped me really believe in her character. Jake’s sister, Lily, could also have provided some more texture in how Jake’s feelings evolved. On a positive note, I really enjoyed how Nora got over her impression of Jake (leaving that out–no spoilers here) and how they get to know one another better. The author uses a device in that process that, while I’ve seen it before, is not overused and is very effective.
Overall, I feel like this book could have been improved with some fairly small, but important, expansions and tweaking. If I’d understood something about Nora’s past, her upbringing, I might have been able to believe how she felt she could adapt. Maybe she’d been camping a lot as a child. Maybe she’d spent time with relatives in rural areas. But unfortunately, we don’t have clues to what Nora’s life was like before she was engaged to the jerk. There’s a secondary story that is hinted at — that of Nora’s father — but very little is actually said about it. I wish there had been a bit more of that. Perhaps that could have provided a foundation for some of the things that seemed hard to believe. While the author touches on the struggles between Nora and Jake to understand each other, and to overcome their own preconceived notions, and she touches on Nora feeling out of place, I found myself wanting more depth in those areas. Ms. McArdle describes the landscape so richly and overall, I wanted the characters to have as much depth as she gives the beautiful scenery.
I’ll give it three stars. It was good, but could have been improved.