cover image The Edge of the Earth

The Edge of the Earth

Christina Schwarz. Atria, $25 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4516-8367-7

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.)