Idaho ~ by Emily Ruskovich

In the very northern reaches of Idaho,  a hundred miles or so from the Canadian border,  Ann and Wade  Mitchell are married even with his ex-wife  Jenny who is in prison for the murder of one of the daughters she had with Wade.   What Ann  wants to do is reconstruct the tragedy,  but Wade is now losing his memory due to dementia.  Ann has to get busy.

The girl was named May and she was 6 years old.   The other daughter was named June,  she was 9 years old.  On the terrible day May was killed June ran away somewhere – never to be found.   She’d be 16 now.

Ann,  the protagonist in Book 1, is not totally sympathetic – there seems to be some tension in her presence,  like she knows more than she’s letting on – or doesn’t know she knows it – like an unreliable narrator except she’s not the narrator,  only a character in a 3rd person narrative.   And quite often Ann is imagining scenes including what might have happened –

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Idaho
by Emily Ruskovich 
2017 / 309 pages (Kindle) 
read by Justine Eyre – 10h 35m
rating –  8 / B-   literary fiction – suspense
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Then comes Book 2 which is mostly Jenny’s section and occurs 4 years after Book 1.   The point of view this time continue to change with a bit from a woman named  Elizabeth,   Jenny’s cellmate and bits from Eliot a boyfriend of the very young June.   Jenny has been in prison for about 12 years in 2008 but the story has segments which take place in 2025.

The tale is told in bits and pieces with non-linear structure – it makes somewhat careful reading necessary.  Even within the chapter and section the story flows back and forth in and out of the past as Ann tries to dig out the truth.  That’s Book 1.

I thought I could just listen to it, but nope –  the chronology changes frequently and I have to look and see what time frame I’m reading in. In fact, the chronology is so mixed that it’s hard even with the print book – the memories of 2006 go back to 1995 and elsewhere and so on – memories and ambiguous opening lines,  etc.

And there is also an alternating  point of view  – In Book 1 there are brief passages or paragraphs where  the thoughts of June,  the elder daughter of Wade and Jenny,  seem to break in but it might be Ann again thinking of what June might think.   In Book 2 the voice of Jenny who is in jail who is in jail is added.

And then there’s the writing itself;  it’s a bit stylish and although not overdone, it does require a bit more focus than I’m use for listening.  It’s a very sensory novel – the sights, sounds,  smells, tastes and textures are hugely emphasized because they are part of the themes –  how memory works through the senses.  .

Book 2 follows Jenny and Elizabeth her cellmate who was imprisoned for murder and is a very dangerous person – keeping a sense of impending violence up.  And we continue to follows Jenny with May in 1995 while Ann keeps up the search for June and for knowledge of what really happened.

At times the suspense is almost palpable,  to the credit of the author for whom this is a debut novel.   But at other times the pace turns to a crawl due to the lengthy descriptions of feelings and memories.

The premise,  a search for a child gone missing after the death of her sister at the hands of their mother who has now been in jail for many years is intriguing.   This is especially true when,  years later,  the stepmother, Ann,  Wade’s second wife,  is doing the search while Wade,  the child’s father,  is fighting the loss of memory,  an inherited trait.   A couple of violent scenes where the father treats his second wife like a dog gives a shadow of violence to the whole.

What is memory and do we remember feelings without texture?   What happens to people with dementia or early memory loss?  What do we do with new memories under great stress – violence – trauma.

And then there are “feelings”  what they are and how they change.  So of course these two things combine to be feelings about memories or memories of feelings –  remembered feelings if you don’t have the exact memory.   Is this like a rock in the sand and someone removes the rock but the depression is still there?   And what happens with changes? –

Themes –   this poor book is just over-laden with them – or motifs.   Love,  loss,  grief, redemption all played out against memory as it concerns the living,  the dead and everything in between.   Another theme is emotional feelings and how they are affected by time and all sorts of changes.   Apparently Jenny killed her child on the memory of a feeling.  ???     And then there are ideas about music and photographs and being trapped as well as the issues of life and death.   I think the many descriptions of the natural landscape and its wildlife both flora and fauna of northern Idaho is also a theme – possibly freedom – possibly something else.

Creating with memories –  a collage and a song and more memories –  memories of memories.    Reading creates memories as well –  making meaning out of memories and feelings and changes.   Most of the narrative is in the form of internal dialogues,  Ann or Jenny or someone thinking – but not 1st person.

But for all the work on feelings,  the characters,  Ann,  Jenny, Wade,  never come “alive,”  they were never real to me.  There was no sympathy there – just little dolls being moved around by an author.   (There is a sizable section about dolls in the story –  about playacting stories – it felt a bit autobiographical.)

I supsect there may be some symbolism in the book too –  deer and fish are both – there are c

I think that’s the problem – or part of it –  there’s too much Ruskovich here and too much literary plumage –  the structure develops high suspense while the multi-layered themes overwhelm the plot and characters.  –

The narrator is not helpful –  she reads as though the book was by Tana French or Stephen King and her voice was a bit screechy and whiny.  The singing was atrocious although it suited the book.

Overall I think by the end of the book I was a bit aggravated by the over-the-top,  too much of everything approach to what might have been a pretty good novel.   When authors do this it often means the book needs to be read twice but I’m just not up to it and have too much else on my plate.

The book is marketed as suspense –  um – it’s NOT a page-turner.  It’s as though there were two novels here –  one novel deals with the material aspect of the  lives of Ann,  Wade,  Jenny,  June and May and the tension builds.   The other novel deals with all the conflicted and echoing emotions of the same people or people who love them.

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