Idaho: Book Review

“Idaho” walks the line between prose and something else. It would be easy to say that something else is poetry; there’s a flowing style and depth to Emily Ruskovich’s language that can sometimes feel poetic. But it’s something else, something much more elegant and aware of the style of prose that cements this as a beautiful piece of literature.

The story of “Idaho” is told through shifting perspectives and across decades. The central character is a man named Wade Mitchell, and the plot of the book surrounds his story and how the people close to him have shaped that story.

Each of those other characters is, for want of a better term, real. Ruskovich has poured into each and every one, creating complex people rather than flat characters. The ‘trick’ she pulls that elevates her style above other fiction is in the details. As anyone who has attended a workshop here on campus or otherwise will tell you, creative writing is in the details. Really good writers set themselves apart by finding ways to make good, original details matter; in “Idaho” Ruskovich goes so far as to make the details matter with connections to the environment and the psychology of the character.

Everything is used in the story. If something is brought up and given anything more than a passing glance it comes back up. Something insignificant to one character matters a great deal to another, when one persons is confused the other feels in control. There is a real net to the narrative and relationships that ties them all together in an impressive coherent style.

There is an element of mystery that helps structure the novel and pull the reader through as well. The event itself is laid out early, an event that has shaped every character in the stories lives and is the center of the book. But around this there are questions, questions that are one main character’s sole desire to answer. That desire bleeds onto the reader, and the tension of guessing ‘why’ page after page is agonizing in the best of ways.

Part of why the book can translate the characters emotions effectively is the elevated language mentioned earlier. Ruskovich is creative, original and often inspired in her communication of the human condition. A passage early on in the book demonstrates the point perfectly; as a prisoner sits in her cell she reads over the notes a teacher has written on her poetry. The way she plays with the notes in her mind is relatable and tragic in the same way our own lazy delusions can be.

It isn’t just that scene either, page after page are filled with these details written in manageable elegance. The biggest compliment I can give the book is that the style is present throughout most of the book, a feat, while the biggest strike against the book is that the style gets muddied three quarters of the way in. With this specific style there is almost a requirement for physical action to keep the story moving with new things for characters to relate to. When the story slows and characters are left reflecting, it can get tedious to hear their hundredth thought on something heartbreaking. It’s important that these segments are there, it makes the reader believe that these characters might go on living once the book is closed, but after such an incredible style for the first half of the book it reads as something lesser.

Disregarding the slightly plodding portion toward the end, the rest of the book is almost a must read for anyone looking to current literature. Ruskovich is a polished example of what is being taught to creative writing students everywhere and deserves to be picked up, if even just for the first 75 pages.

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