I was presenting to 80 parents and high school students on Saturday when I realized that I was having trouble seeing. The lights in the room were burning my eyes and I could no longer see faces clearly. I somehow made it through the rest of the presentation with limited interruption, then went to the doctor. Apparently I have a corneal ulcer (which sounds way more serious than it is, but it's still super annoying and painful). I filled a prescription for eye drops, walked home (could not drive), and promptly sliced open the length of my right hand on a broken wine glass (I wasn't actually drinking from this wine glass yet, though I 100% felt like it). All to say, I didn't go out much this weekend. On the bright side, I did get to read Emily Ruskovich's debut novel, Idaho, which has been on my TBR list for a few weeks now. I have a lot of feelings about it, so please bear with me...
Idaho defies traditional categorization. It's part murder mystery, part psychological thriller, part literary fiction. The basic plot involves a middle aged woman (Ann) married to an older man struggling with dementia (Wade). Over their many years of marriage, Ann digs deeper into the defining tragedy of Wade's past: his ex-wife (Jenny) is serving a life sentence for murdering their youngest daughter, May. Their other daughter, June, ran away at the time of the murder and has been missing for 15 years. The essential questions at the outset of the novel are: (1) Why did Jenny murder her daughter? and (2) Will the missing child ever be found? Ruskovich writes beautifully, though some of her artsy literary techniques surely went over my head. I was so absorbed in the plot that I ended up reading this too quickly. I might re-read it in order to fully appreciate the writing.
I felt frustrated at the end of Idaho. There are very few plot resolutions, at least not in the traditional sense. We never find out exactly why Jenny murdered her daughter, though that's the point: is there ever a "reason" to kill one's child? Humans look for patterns and logic in the face of tragedy, while certain actions are senseless. It's almost like Ruskovich is poking fun at the reader: "You think there could truly be a reason why a mother would kill her own child? It's senseless! Why look for a reason at all if you know a reason could never suffice? I'm not going to hand you a reason!" Ruskovich is right: the death of a child is always entirely and completely senseless. Why look for sense in a crime that has none?
To frustrate the reader even more, Ruskovich never tells us what has come of the missing daughter, June. The reader, just like the parent of a missing child, is left dangling: is June alive or dead? Parents of missing children say that not knowing whether their child is alive is one of the worst aspects of the saga. These parents (and Ruskovich's readers) are forced to live forever in this liminal / dangling place. There is no closure, there is no sense, and there is certainly no reason.
Ruskovich-- Idaho is perfect. The parts that frustrate me are exactly the parts you have purposefully designed to frustrate me. Bravo, well done.