After finishing this book, I needed a few days to emotionally process it.
Idaho is a beautifully written book set in the desolate lonely mountains of–you guessed it–Idaho. Although the book shifts perspectives among the different characters, the opening character, Ann, is the most comforting perspective. Ann married Wade and became his second wife. Throughout most of the book Ann is trying to figure out what happened one day many years ago when Wade’s first wife, Jenny, killed one of his daughters, and the other daughter disappeared. To add to the wispy vagueness of the event, Wade has early-onset dementia, and his memories and emotions of the event are becoming increasingly unreachable. Ann’s curiosity and active imagination makes her relatable to the reader because we are all trying to figure out what happened too!
The landscape Emily Ruskovich describes in Idaho is the perfect setting for the story. One of the chapters describes the first difficult winter Wade and Jenny experience when they decide to build a house on a mountain far away from everything they know, and the majority of the chapters take place on this mountain in different years, even after Ann moves in with Wade.
Her brief descriptions of the mountain help set the tone of the loneliness each character experiences: Ann in her fears to ask Wade direct questions, Wade in the sadness that permeates even his failing memory, Jenny in jail accepting that she deserves every difficulty after her act, their youngest daughter in feeling cast aside by the oldest daughter who is going through puberty, and even the side characters.
When I was about eleven, my family did a road trip throughout that area, but I have no recollections of Idaho. My mom was determined to see buffalo, so we zipped right to Montana, where she read we would see the buffalo. In some ways, the book confirmed why I don’t remember much of Idaho. This state is not often-mentioned in literature, television, or the media.
A couple of chapters describe life in the plains, where Wade and Jenny lived before moving to the mountain to try to offset the dementia genetic to the men in Wade’s family, but life in the plains seems to be like life in the mountains: difficult (although to varying degrees). The characters are used to rough living, foreign to us city people. Being from an urban area, I know many people have the perception that living in such countryside is supposed to be “simple” living, but the characters almost handle their complex loneliness and difficulties by themselves, hiding it through their daily labor.
The reoccurring “M” engraved in Wade’s work ties everything together by symbolizing the mountains, his last name, and his relationships. In their own solitary way, each character shares a similar burden because of the murder way up in the mountains. The descriptions of the setting in the book make me think of the destitute landscape of Wuthering Heights, but set in a higher altitude.
Ann’s chapters describing her isolated life with Wade make me want to listen to one of my favorite Swedish bands, Junip, because their songs conjure a feeling of cold snow-covered mountains and a slight sadness in setting.
She feels the need to leave When the fields are all covered in frost And the dreams begin to breathe Opening the partly open locks Without You - Junip
Ironically, I do not have much of a memory of Idaho, but this book made me curious to visit again. Although Idaho might not have the tourist destinations of Yellowstone or Mount Rushmore, I am drawn to the locations described in the novel. Perhaps the landscape lends itself to deep thinking while looking at the silhouettes of mountains in the summer.
I have always done poorly with psychological thrillers. (At some point during movies in that genre, I need to read over the Wikipedia page to calm down). Since this was not a movie, I fought the urge to flip through upcoming chapters to try to figure out if Wade’s daughter ever turns up or if one chapter describes the moment of the murder. I lost out to that urge twice. At the end, I also just wanted to flip back throughout the book to see if I had missed anything. My copy of the book included an interview with the author in the last few pages. This provided some comfort to that hollowness of not knowing what happened. Emily Ruskovich talks about her choice in how she presented the event, and I respected her reasoning. Having a clear-cut answer to all the questions would make the story too soap-opera-perfect versus a real depiction of the feeling that some family members must experience. As the reader, you want to know, but you will never know for sure.