Nominated by:

Openbare Bibliotheek Brugge, Belgium

Publisher of nominated edition:

Chatto & Windus, UK

Idaho – 2019 Winner!

Emily Ruskovich      

Citation

At the heart of Emily Ruskovich’s haunting debut novel is the inexplicable. A young couple, Jenny and Wade, move from the prairies to the utter loneliness and unexpected isolation of the Northern Idaho mountains where they carelessly bought a piece of wooded land on a steep mountainside. As yet, they know nothing about the winter that will entrap them:  masses of snow, no plow, no neighbours, the next settlement eight miles away. This is not an idyll. Years go by. They build a house with their own hands; two children are born – May and June. Then, all of a sudden, in a brutal flash, with no warning, their happiness and their love are destroyed forever. Idaho is no thriller, though, that gradually uncovers the psychological abysses that would explain the inexplicable. The deed remains the deed, and the murderous evil of it stays ambivalent and mysterious to the end.

Ruskovich’s masterful achievement is to narrate with consummate skill the complex series of events covering a time-span of more than fifty years. The plot unfolds achronologically following multiple subjective perspectives. The narrative is thoroughly experimental, but  this neither impedes the flow of reading, nor does it diminish its utter suspense. Unresolved contrasts prevail: the vastness of the landscape is faced with terrifying images of confinement caused by remorseless nature and a prison cell. Empathy and love stand next to cruelty and crime. Individual guilt, trauma and pain are looming as large as eventual forgiveness and the ability to live in half-knowledge. Ultimately, Idaho evolves into a masterpiece on the redeeming and regenerative potential of music, poetry, literature and art.

About the book

One hot August day a family drives to a mountain clearing to collect birch wood. Jenny the mother, is in charge of lopping any small limbs off the logs with a hatchet. Wade the father, does the stacking. The two daughters June and May, aged nine and six, drink lemonade, swat away horseflies, bicker, sing snatches of songs as they while away the time. But then something unimaginably shocking happens, an act so extreme it will scatter the family in every different direction.

About the author

Emily Ruskovich grew up in the Idaho Panhandle, on Hoodoo mountain. Her fiction has appeared in Zoetrope, One Story and the Virginia Quarterly Review. A winner of a 2015 O. Henry Award and a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, she now teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado, Denver. Idaho is her first novel.

(from publisher)

Librarian’s comments

This special debut novel is a real gem because of the atmosphere as well as the special structure of the novel. Ann Mitchell and her husband Wade live on a woody mountain in Idaho. We know from the beginning that the ex-wife is in prison and the two daughters are dead or missing. It’s difficult to unravel the mystery because Wade suffers from a kind of dementia. What had happened and why? Emily Ruskovich leaves bread crumbs by means of different stories. It’s nice to zig zag through time in a world of multiple truths. Toward the end the stories become shorter and supported by the long descriptions of the lonely, sinister and misty landscape.

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