Friday, February 16, 2018
Posted by JaneGS
I went into Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich, with my eyes wide open. I read enough reviews without getting spoilers to know that this was one of those books you either love or loathe, but I didn't quite know why.
Reading it is akin to watching a train wreck, a beautiful, dazzling disaster of a novel. Let me start with the writing. It is gorgeous. Ruskovich has the pen of a poet--she can weave sentences that are strong and poignant and colorful. Her words sing.
The problem is that the story doesn't hold together and the characters are unbelievable. I'm pretty comfortable with ambiguity in novels, but I don't think that Ruskovich wanted her readers to feel uncertain about what her characters did. The ambiguity is unintentional, so despite the glorious turns of phrase, the novel is weak.
If you haven't read it or don't mind spoilers, here goes - Jenny and Wade are married, have two young daughters, June and May, live on a mountain in Idaho near a small town. Wade meets Ann, a music teacher and English expat, and asks her to teach him to play the piano so that he won't develop early dementia, as his father did. She does--he practices at home. One hot summer afternoon, May is singing a song Wade learned from Ann, so Jenny kills her with a hatchet. June runs away from the scene and is never found. Jenny goes to prison, Wade and Ann get married, Wade gets dementia, Ann becomes obsessed with Jenny.
So, why did Jenny kill May? Because she hummed a song? Really--no other reason? Why did Ann and Wade fall in love? There seemed zero chemistry between them. Why was Ann English--what on earth did that have to do with anything? She didn't even seek solace in a cuppa tea, ever! The most non-English character I've ever met. Why did Ann visit the weird Deliverance-esqe family at one point in the story? It had absolutely no bearing on the plot or our understanding of Ann. What did Eliot and his accident have to do with anything--okay, plot device to get Wade to the school to meet Ann, but then why did he surface again later in the story for one short section? How did that have anything to do with the story arc or help explain anything at all about what went down that summer afternoon?
All that said, I actually found the prison scenes interesting, although they did nothing to help me get a handle on who Jenny really was, why she did the awful thing she did, etc.
Idaho was one of the most dissatisfying books I've read in a long time. It should've been great--Ruskovich has a way with words, but based on Idaho, I don't think she's a very good storyteller.
This is a Tournament of Books finalist. I have feeling it will do well. The crowd at GoodReads on the Tournament of Books group seemed to love it.