Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Edge of the Earth.
Setting her story in 1897, Schwartz moves from cosmopolitan Milwaukee to the edge of the California coastline, an untamed, windswept landscape where a feisty young woman named Gertrude Swann--along with with her husband, Oskar--attends to the mechanisms of Point Lucia lighthouse. Convincingly portraying the conflicts of her young heroine through the use of first-person
narrative, Schwartz fluctuates between the earthly and mythical worlds of Trudy’s mind.
A pampered child living in Milwaukee, where “young people are expected to have certain ideas of their own within certain boundaries,” it comes as a shock to Trudy’s bourgeois parents when she confesses her love for
rebellious, blue-eyed Oskar, who whisks her away to California and to a supposedly lovely future.
As Trudy ponders how her Milwaukee existence has been transplanted to a new home, she attempts to make herself into a link in the very chain constricting her in a future that shimmers just beyond her ability to perceive it.
Enraptured by the notion of “a love so fierce,” Trudy is fully aware that Oskar’s sentiments are in the same spirit she so willingly craves. Trudy is unafraid of bold ideas and determined to help Oskar build upon his plan that electricity might be an efficient alternative to steam power. For Oskar, Point Lucia lighthouse is a perfect place for his experiments, providing a chance for some truly independent trials with engines in an environment “untainted by everyone else’s ideas.”
With Oskar perpetually distracted, Trudy--blessed with a kind and nurturing character--is asked to tutor the wild Crawley children at the bequest of their officious mother, Euphemia Crawley. Trudy’s heart is captured by one who belongs to another and seduced by this sublime vista that excites terror and admiration in equal measure,
and she finds herself repeating the words of stony, practical Mrs. Crawley: “No one comes here. No one comes here.”
Placed far beyond the average aristocratic woman's life experiences, Trudy brings extraordinary insights to the mist-filled shores of Point Lucia,
though she can’t quite believe the Crawleys' talk of a mermaid who hides at the
base of the rocky cliffs. As her patience with Oskar begins to swing like a
pendulum, she has visions of a “black-haired seal-skinned banshee” whirling down
the narrow cliff paths, brandishing a spear and threatening to kill her. There
is also Euphemia's brother, the mysterious Archie, who is undone by grief and by unhappiness.
Like a damaged dog he cowers, traumatized by some event in his past.
The main storyline is framed as a nearly seventy-year-old flashback, revealing answers to questions revolving around motherhood and obsession and one woman’s potent mythologizing of her lover. We are convinced that Point Lucia has power, and only through its foreboding atmosphere does Schwartz’s prose create a tone right for the era,
encapsulating the dark, stormy nights and an ocean that rises to meet Trudy, its greenish, half-growing, half-decaying scent laced with salt and unwashed animal stink.
The novel doesn’t really impact the reader until the final tragic chapters, yet for the most part, Schwartz manages to infuse her story with much period realism, contributing to our understanding of Trudy’s emotional strengths and trials and the realization that, through the wisdom of age, she will once again see the new light of dawn.