Trigger warning for depression and suicide
Review written & published for Criticalwrit.com
While At The Water’s Edge is one of the most well known works of lesbian romance & erotica writer Harper Bliss, it’s perhaps one of those that stand out the most in her bibliography (at least in my opinion). For starters it is, by the author’s own admission, one of her tamer books, though be warned that there’s no fade to black when sex starts and Harper Bliss is very good at making you blush furiously and give furtive glance behind your shoulder to make sure nobody’s reading over it. It’s also a very personal work of fiction, for her and for those who’ve shared her experience with depression.
Ella Goodman returns to her birth town of Oregon a deeply wounded woman— years after fleeing it, and not long after a break-up that saw her land in the hospital in the wake of a failed attempt at ending her own life. Now she’s back in the town that saw her grow up, and she has two things on her mind : healing the wounds of her soul and coming to terms with her dysfunctional, broken and scattered family. Staying alone at her family’s cabin in the nearby resort, she meets and finds friendship in Kay Brody, the owner. Kay is a confident, steady and quite perceptive woman who soon proves adept at tearing the armor around Ella’s heart, forcing her to see herself and her wounds.
At The Water’s Edge was quite possibly one of the more difficult read I’ve come across lately. Not because of how it was written, but because of the difficult subjects it touched. There is no doubt in my mind that Harper Bliss drew from her own experience with depression, and Ella’s struggles resonated deeply with my own. I found myself often brought to tears as the book bared my soul as well as Ella’s while on the difficult path of her healing. Perhaps that is why this book stands out to me: it speaks to me in a manner not a lot of stories do.
Harper Bliss writes compelling characters that feel all too real, like people we’ve probably known at some point of our life. Her judgmental mother, bitter and mean after spending an unhappy marriage with her husband who lost himself in shame and guilt after getting caught red handed with a mistress. Her sister, Nina, who fled to the other side of the world without a word, full of anger and resentment. Ella, who went on to Boston to become a biologist, losing herself in work and the ruins of failed relationships, depression slowly chipping away at her energy until she could not bear living another day. It is a story about Ella and the Goodman family, and it’s true Kay may seem lacking a little depth beside them— but we quickly grow fond of the pair as they get closer and sometimes stumble on the rough edges of Ella’s heart.
Harper Bliss has a very tight way of writing and she doesn’t lose time on secondary plots or characters, which does account for the relative shortness of the story (221 pages). I tried to slow my reading towards the end, wishing for more despite the bruises it awakened, and I do feel the book could have used a few more dozen pages without diluting its strength, particularly with Kay, who I did find to be too perfect to be true. Bliss does a very good job at writing in the first person, present tense; so good in fact that I actually did not notice it before it was brought up to me. The few sex scenes we’re treated with are furiously blush-inducing, and they tread the edge of soft domination.
Despite those few small flaws, At The Water’s Edge remains a solid and thoroughly enjoyable book that I’ll probably enjoy reading again soon, at least to remember that sometimes, it gets better.