...[a] shatteringly original debut ... Each character’s voice is real and authentic, rendered with hypnotic precision. ... You could read Idaho just for the sheer beauty of the prose, the expert way Ruskovich makes everything strange and yet absolutely familiar. There is the sullen, oppressive heat, the lush verdant green of the forest, and the smothering cover of snow. There are 'the drippy pines, the mulchy ground.' She startles with images so fresh, they make you see the world anew ... Idaho’s brilliance is in its ability to not to tie up the threads of narrative, and still be consummately rewarding. The novel reminds us that some things we just cannot know in life — but we can imagine them, we can feel them and, perhaps, that can be enough to heal us.
The construction of this truth is the book’s vital energy. Despite large sections devoted to the girls, Wade and Ann, the novel’s central character and cipher is Jenny ... Idaho will thwart readers expecting a defining pathology or demon at the heart of Jenny’s act. Even when situated in the mind of the murderer, we find no answer ... you’re in masterly hands here. Ruskovich’s language is itself a consolation, as she subtly posits the troubling thought that only decency can save us ... Idaho is also a very Northwestern book. Thoughts eddy here as they do in Jim Harrison’s work, and Ruskovich’s novel will remind many readers of the great Idaho novel, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.”
Poetic and razor sharp ... Idaho shifts to his perspective, as well as the perspective of his first wife, Jenny, who we meet serving a 30-year prison sentence. Each point of view is imbued with a strikingly different perspective on the events that connect them. Each is powerfully psychological, as Ruskovich gingerly peels back their respective psyches, regrets, and dreams and each character’s undeniable urge to gaze backward ... Idaho is sad, but not despairingly so. Ruskovich’s prose is lyrical but keen, a poem that never gets lost in its own rhythm. Even as the plot can be seen to loosely hang over the murder, most of the chapters are more concerned with a Marilynne Robinson-like emphasis on the private, painfully human contemplation going on inside the characters’ brains. The result is writing as bruisingly beautiful as the Idaho landscape in which the story takes place.
...a sensuous, exquisitely crafted wallowing in grief and tragedy ... Ann is the novel’s protagonist, but Ms. Ruskovich assumes the perspectives of numerous characters and scene-shifts from the distant past to the near future. The effect is to create a complex spider’s web of telling moments that ensnares the reader in the deep, meaningless suffering at the book’s center. There’s no catharsis on offer in Idaho. The point is a sadness so totalizing that it begins to resemble pleasure.
Ruskovich’s prose, which keenly captures the harsh beauty of the Idaho mountains where the novel takes place, can be intoxicating; the sticky sourness of lemonade and the sting of woody smoke in the air hit the reader almost viscerally in the tastebuds and nose. Yet the forceful, crackling life of her scenery isn’t quite matched by the characters that move within it. By giving the narration of the novel mostly to its women, Ruskovich sets Wade, the man at its heart, to the side. Aside from jumbled memories of his early years, his romance with Jenny, we hear little directly from him. The result, perhaps intentional, is that he remains a cipher, from the shape of his mourning to the possible shades of guilt, rage, heartbreak and betrayal that might lie underneath it ... It’s a novel about the psychological ripples of an unthinkable crime, but it ultimately wavers when it comes to laying bare the psyches of its subjects, which remain too opaque to be revelatory ... Lyrical, sharply beautiful prose washes through Idaho, a dark and poignant debut that never quite manages to bring its characters to life yet remains gripping from beginning to end.
Ruskovich’s human characters keep company with native animals, from moose to deer, from beetles to flies, subject to the same vicissitudes and the one death. The author’s sympathetic imagination extends, movingly, to all animal life, the child who is killed and the fly she may have killed ... Structurally, the novel is complex, requiring and rewarding a reader’s intent concentration. A fragmented construction zigzags to and fro between multiple perspectives and unchronological dates ... Idaho is a meditation on the power and limits of the individual imagination, as well as on memory and its aberrations. What can we understand or intuit about other people, given that our knowledge owes so much to subjective guesswork? ... In the final third of the novel, telling becomes excessively fragmentary, resembling short stories in a composite novel. At one point I failed to recognise a character and had to return to the beginning to identify him. That I was prepared to do so speaks volumes for the exceptional quality of Ruskovich’s writing.
In passages of extraordinarily convincing interiority, Ruskovich shows Ann doggedly, lovingly, half-guiltily, trying to imagine how the crime happened, and why ... Ruskovich acknowledges among her chief influences two grandes dames of contemporary fiction: Marilynne Robinson and Alice Munro. One thinks also of Carol Shields, another great writer drawn to similar themes. Whatever you make of her puzzling story, her multiple truths, the quality of the writing shines out in page after page of vivid particularity. Definitely a writer to cherish and watch.
...haunting debut novel ... Ruskovich’s prose is immensely seductive, drawing the reader into a narrative that defies easy resolution. The first section unfolds tautly, as though it were a short story onto which the rest of the novel was built in a search for explanation. The subsequent short sections, which move back and forth over 50 years and in and out of various points of view (the two little girls, Jenny, her cellmate, a local boy, even a bloodhound), fill in the gaps of the central mystery and meander, sometimes very far, away from it ... The novel is atmosphere as much as it is story. Ruskovich finds a kind of severe beauty in these woods, in trash heaps hidden in the trees, in the burdensome heat of summer, in dripping pines and the smell of wood smoke, in the whine of horseflies and fingers sticky with lemonade ... In a family marred irreparably by violence, “Idaho’’ finds the ability to continue living by making a home in what is right before our eyes, in those details of life and land that remain, regardless.
...by the end of Emily Ruskovich’s riveting debut novel, Idaho, we get sufficient insight into the complex amalgamation of love, darkness and madness in the human soul to approximate a kind of understanding ... some of the most brilliant passages about sister relationships I have ever read ... If all this sounds a bit chaotic, it is. But it is the chaos of life, exquisitely rendered with masterful language and imagery. You leave Idaho feeling as though you have been given a rare glimpse into the souls of genuinely surprising and convincing people ... a powerful and deeply moving book.
...an oddly compelling, at times dizzying spin through the ways memory can imprison or inspire us ... Ruskovich turns that quasi-explanation into a kind of refrain. Scenes of senseless, almost spectral violence haunt the pages, choking even nostalgic scenes with a queasy, anxious air ... The anxiety is amplified by Ruskovich’s vivid, unsettling images. Throughout the book, Ruskovich paints the Idaho landscape as both idyllic and wild ... The rhythm of the writing expertly mirrors the progression of Wade’s disease — music and its abrupt halt, a piano chord unresolved as he fumbles at the keys. Still, at times Ruskovich falls into the trap of too many contemporary novelists and sacrifices concrete details for abstract lyricism ... The resulting novel is a tense, artful meditation on memory with sustained suspense and a splash of gothic horror.
A heartwrenching tale ... The non-chronologically stratified chapters add a three dimensional depth to the narrative as we trail Wade, Jen, and Ann and trace their life trajectories. Emily has a gift for poetic writing; each sentence is stylized to perfection. She strips down every emotion to its bare elemental form and has the knack for succinctly describing every emotion ... Idaho is exceptional partially because of Ruskovich’s decision not to focus on the dramatic moments, such as the murder or June’s disappearance—something which a less gifted writer might have done to keep readers’ interest intact. She chooses to focus instead on the prosaic, slice-of-life moments and the impacts of loss in even the most minuscule of actions. What makes Idaho particularly memorable is how Ruskovich verbalizes the myriad ways love and sorrow are manifested in our actions while also speaking to the intersection of empathy and forgiveness.