Published by Random House
Publication date: January 3rd 2017
When a mother brutally murders one of her young children in the first quarter of a novel there is an expectation that the motivation behind the act will be a theme or, maybe, her backstory and how it led to such an act, but in Emily Ruskovich’s debut, Idaho, neither happens. I picked up, put down and tried to re-engage this novel multiple times in the course of several weeks. If Ruskovich’s prose had been any less gorgeous I would not have finished the book. Instead, I kept thinking it was going somewhere, but the destination never arrived.
There is the story of Jenny and Wade and their little girls. Then the murder and disappearance of the other daughter who runs away from the crime scene and is never found. Jenny confesses, is sent to prison and we follow. We meet her cellmate and learn her story. On the outside, a year later, Wade marries a younger woman and begins the slow descent into early onset dementia. His new wife Ann tries to cope with this man who, in contradiction of the premise of marriage, is becoming less familiar not more. When she connects him to the tragedy in their small town she tries to recover the memories he’s losing. This pulls her deeper into his past, but without a connection to Jenny there are no answers. And Jenny, even in the chapters she narrates, is not talking.
These things were a kind of collection she began to keep, a list she would run down in her mind, eventually not out of pain anymore but out of wonder, as if something were right there on the edge of her life, waiting for her to discover it.
She’s pulled deeper into his past, but without a connection to Jenny there are no answers. And Jenny, even in the chapters she narrates, is not talking.
Instead, Idaho pitches and rolls, from one character and timeline to another. Neither multiple timelines or numerous characters are problematic in a novel because they work to create an evocative slice-of-life. But when there is no through-line, glue, something to connect the dots, there can be no whole, only diffuse fragments. Without that something to hold onto Idaho is beautiful sentences in search of a story.
Kate @ booksaremyfavouriteandbest says
What a shame! This was on my list of books I was/am most looking forward to this year. I’ll still read it (but with slightly lower expectations).
Sarah's Book Shelves says
Haha – I’ve been waiting for this one! And your last sentence sums this up perfectly! Beautiful sentences, randomly sprinkled throughout something that never really becomes a story.
Ann @ Books on the Table says
Couldn’t agree with you more. I kept reading, wondering if a story or the characters’ motivations would ever emerge. No such luck . . .
I guess the good news is we can look forward to what she does next, right?
Well, now I have competing respected opinions, which is always fun. Even though I haven’t been able to cram library books into the schedule of late I requested this one. We’ll see if I get to it. I’m more intrigued by a book like this than one with praise across the board, so thanks for your thoughts!
I can’t wait to hear what you think! You’ll be the tie-breaker.
Susie | Novel Visits says
I agree with so much of your take on Idaho. It was frustrating at times. I enjoyed the book more when I looked at it as Ann’s story with everything else just adding layers to her.
Yes! There were too many well-drawn characters and they ended up detracting from each other.
There seems to be such widely varying opinions on this one that it just makes me more curious about it. 🙂
Katie @ Doing Dewey says
I’ve read a mix of reviews from people who really loved and really hated this one, so I don’t know what to expect, but I think I may have to pick it up to find out 🙂
Do, Katie, then come back and let me know where you fell on the spectrum!
Oh nooo! This one had such raves too. Ugh I need a story. If it doesn’t add up to anything then I can’t go for it. I had it on my January list too. Darn. Shannon I think liked it at River City Reading. Now I will alter my reading plans, I think. Though I do like a story set in a rugged landscape.
I’ve been waiting to read your review and I finished this one last night…ahhh. I don’t even know what to say! I told Sarah that I vacillated between not being able to put it down and wanting to throw it against the wall – ha! Like you’ve stated so well, the writing is absolutely gorgeous; I can’t even tell you how many passages I highlighted, but it didn’t make up for the disjointed feeling of the story. Okay, that’s my review. I’m just going to copy and paste this now – ha!
You’re more active than I am, Tara! I didn’t even have the energy to throw it- I just kept dropping it and then going back to it days later. Not what I need a book right now.
Helen Hassler says
I had read a good review on this book, but it was a terrible disappointment. No revelation of who did what and why.
You’re not alone. Almost everyone I know who read it was never sure what happened. Ruskovich writes well but the too much ambiguity.