Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

I confess that it was love at first sight when I saw the cover of Emily Ruskovich’s debut, Idaho. There was something about the rich floral artwork that caught my eye. Thankfully the blurb held up, as did the opening page, and fairly soon I was engrossed.

Idaho could be classed loosely as a literary thriller. It tells the story of Ann and Wade who live in a remote mountainside forest in northern Idaho. Ann tries to piece together the truth of what happened to Wade’s first wife, Jenny, and their two young daughters, May and June –

“Because Wade had thrown everything away – drawings, clothes, toys – each accidental remnant loomed in Ann’s mind with unspeakable importance. Four moldy dolls buried in the sawdust of a rotten stump. A high-heeled Barbie shoe that fell from the drainpipe… Artifacts heavy with importance they didn’t deserve, but which they took on because of their frightening scarcity.”

Teasers in the opening chapters pull you in –

“Nine years ago, when Wade was still married to Jenny and both of his daughters were still alive, a mouse crawled along the top of the truck’s exhaust pipe…”

Ruskovich’s distinct writing style is immediately obvious – straightforward yet poetic. I particularly loved her depiction of the relationship between Wade’s daughters, May and June – ‘swimming’ in steel drums, their petty rivalries and playing games of MASH. Her use of analogies – a poetry class in a prison, the way a bloodhound follows a trail – was stunning.

There are some big themes in this book – grief, love, redemption and isolation. The themes are explored in many ways, from the harsh landscape where Ann and Wade live and the significance of Wade’s fading memory to the loss of the girls.

“She thinks of Wade. He has lost his daughters, but he has also lost the memory of losing them. But he has not lost the loss. Pain is as present in his body as his signature is in his hand.”

It’s not a perfect book. Toward the end, Ruskovich introduces a few too many points-of-view. Although some were interesting, I don’t think they added enough to the story to warrant inclusion. The ending was marginally unsatisfying (because truly, there’s no possible answer for what unfolds) but a lot can be forgiven on account of Ruskovich’s fine writing –

“The hornets in the corners buzzed, and outside somewhere, under the clothesline where rose-colored shirts were starched with sunshine, two girls were filling miniature blue teacups with sand.”

“Perhaps it’s what both their hearts have been wanting all along – to be broken. In order to know that they are whole enough to break.”

3.5/5  This story hinges on an unspeakably brutal act and yet Ruskovich writes with such beauty. Compelling stuff.

I received my copy of Idaho from the publisher, Random House, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

“She’s in the kitchen. She’s making a lemon meringue. June and May fighting in the kitchen. Not play-fighting. May hitting June on her temple with a spoon.”











7 responses

  1. I liked parts of this one, but really was perplexed by some of it. All the prison sequences with that other woman (not Jenny…now can’t remember her name) and the fast forward to that boy’s later life (again…can’t remember his name) seemed pointless to me. And I wanted to know more about what happened…we could have gotten that through Jenny.
    But – the writing was gorgeous!
    Overall, I don’t really get all the hype.

  2. The cover doesn’t grab me, sorry. But the women I was dining with ganged up to tell me how wrong I was (yes, it was an informal dinner and we were all watching/participating in discussions on our phones). I might read this if I can think of someone to whom I can give it as a present.

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