Novel and Notable: Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
Novel and Notable is a column designed for the busy college bookworm. A common complaint that I hear from my university friends is that they wish they had more time to read. Between assignments, clubs, and social life; it can feel impossible to delve into a book. But for those of us who consume literature like breath, we find ways to read. This column is my attempt to entice you to find time and to suggest books relatable to university life. My wish for you, my peers, is that in an increasingly fast-paced world, you might find some quiet moments to slow your breathing and get lost in a good book. Welcome to Novel and Notable.
Idaho by Emily Ruskovich is currently my favorite read. With its bare prose and thoughtful descriptions of life in the backwoods; the novel confronts love, loss, and the darkest depths of human nature. Published in January 2017 as Ruskovich’s debut novel, Idaho is like poetry masterfully spun into prose. Ruskovich’s voice is striking as she chronicles the lives of Wade and his former wife, Jenny, after the horrific murder of their oldest daughter, May.
On a hot summer day the family takes a trip to the mountains to cut wood. With one swift strike of a hatchet the characters’ lives change in irrevocable ways. Jenny has killed May. Ruskovich uses this event to unapologetically examine humanity’s capacity for beauty and brutality.
The story is told through multiple perspectives, but makes Ann, Wade’s current wife, the center. With his memory quickly fading due to dementia, not only is Ann charged with being his caretaker, but she places the burden of his memories upon herself. Hungry for the truth behind May’s murder and what motivated the movement of Jenny’s hand, the characters use the past as a vessel for understanding the present.
With Jenny in prison and Wade a prisoner to his crumbling mind, Ann’s quest for answers relies heavily on her own interpretation of Wade’s memories. Idaho questions what it means to forgive in the face of reconciling what was with what is. Ruskovich’s contemporary style and innate ability for understanding what it means to be human mark her as a force to watch.
Ultimately the novel serves as a reminder of the intersection of the past and present. Without providing direct answers, it instead fuels the question of what it means to cut ties with memories, to live through them, and to forgive.
The lesson of reconciling memory is one that I think is important for every college-age student to question. This time in our lives as blossoming independents is convenient for reinvention. For many of us, we have memories of ourselves and the world around us that we want to abandon, reputations that we want to change. I think the author Joan Didion put it best when she said, “We are well-advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” As hard as it may be to face the past, on the journey toward self-discovery, looking back is essential to understanding the present and future.
College is the time to become the versions of ourselves that we’ve always wanted to be. But as Idaho reminds us, to cut ties with memories means abandoning the very essence of what it means to be human: a compilation of good and bad.