Book review: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

I grabbed this book from netgalley for a review, y’all can read it in a week or so when it comes out.

 

This is a shocking book. The crime it’s based on will make you suck your breath in and clench your fists. It’s brutal and cruel and tragic.

But what is most shocking is the beautiful, eloquent, quiet way the story around the crime is rendered. This book is soft-paced, it builds (rising and falling like breath), it wrenches at your heart and it fills you with a longing that you can’t quite explain.

It’s the story of May and June, sisters born 3 years apart.

It’s the story of Ann who teaches piano, loves her husband, and can never quite escape the question of blame.

It’s the story of Jenny and Elizabeth, who find an awkward but enduring friendship in an ugly place.

This is a book about women, and about those people who women love. It starts on a mountain, with Wade felling trees to allow a helicopter to reach a pregnant Jenny if need be. Years later, another winter, Wade and Jenny drive their girls to the next mountain to collect firewood and it is here the unspeakable happens (literally – Ruskovich NEVER actually replays the moment itself, just those leading up to it and immediately after. It’s as if the act itself cannot be written because it’s too horrendous). Again, years pass, and Ann finds herself in the same truck, trying to uncover the truth of her husband’s past in order to save his future.

The story jumps between years and decades, going all the way to 2025, where Ann and Jenny – now old women, almost unrecognizable even to themselves – leave the mountain at last. The nonlinear narrative form adds to the story and also helps build a sense of Wade’s increasing dementia – even as the years are announced, it’s uncertain what will be uncovered, a fight between May and June over dolls, a man lost in the snow, Jenny adding to Elizabeth’s mural – these tiny acts add to a life (or to the loss of one) and slowly uncover the overall story, which spans three generations on the prairie and the mountain. There’s a sense of menace which is slightly offset by the gorgeous, ripe prose. This is an author who understands deeply what it is to be a woman, to love and be loved in return, to despair and be despaired of. Ruskovich’s grasp of family devotion is essential to the story. Her knowledge of the landscape shines (she was raised in northern Idaho), and she graciously allows us moments of pure grace amongst the horror (“May feels tired. Happy, and tired…She begins to do what she often does just before her eyes close. She decides to forget things”).

There are a few detours I didn’t like – I felt like the one legged boy’s story was a little out of place, and the bloodhound, and Adam. Not that they don’t belong there, and they add to the narrative, but it’s strange to jump to a male perspective for those particular chapters. I would have preferred the dog to be female, Eliot’s story to be told by Ivy (or Julia). Adam’s story….well, I guess that had to be told by Adam himself, but it’s strange and jarring to have male voices in a mostly-female narrative. And not in an interesting/good way.

But all in all, probably the second best novel I’ve read all year and just stunning. It’s one that will stay with me for a long time.

4.5/5

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Filed under Author Love, Crime, Fiction

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