Idaho by Emily Ruskovich Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich; Random House, 2017. 308 pages; $27.00 (hardcover); reading level: adult.

The central act of Ruskovich’s graceful first novel – the murder, on an Idaho mountain, of 6-year-old May by her mother, Jenny – has already taken place when we begin reading. We are haunted by two questions: Why did Jenny (who is immediately remorseful, pleads guilty, and goes to prison) commit such an act? And what happened to May’s older sister, left on the mountain when her father Wade, sped off in the truck for help, with Jenny in the front seat and May’s bloody body in the back? The journey toward answers is quiet and achingly beautiful. Characters teetering on the edge of their own personal abyss, reach out to steady one another: Jenny gives her cell mate reason to live, Wade tries to shield his second wife, Ann, from knowing things that might distress her; Ann in turn stands by Wade as he battles early-onset dementia; Ann reaches out to Jenny. In the end it is not the violent act that overwhelms but the flood of selfless love and kindness that the act sets in motion. Ruskovich’s writing is so lyrical, so studded with bits of wisdom and insight that the book’s theme is almost buried in the beauty of it all. It comes through the eyes of Jenny’s cell-mate as she gazes out of her prison window on gravel, sage, barbed wire, and the setting sun: Even with nothing worthwhile to land on, the light lands.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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