When Ann first meets Wade, the situation is not easy: his daughter has brought a knife to school and he is fascinated by the music teacher. He starts exercising, learning to play the piano with her. But after a tragic incident in which one of his daughters is killed, the other lost and his wife Jenny sentenced to prison, they lose track of each other. Years later, they are married and Wade is suffering from dementia. Ann tries to put together the pieces of Wade’s life and to understand what happened to May, June and Jenny on that day in 1995. Wild rural Idaho gives them the setting for an emotionally conflict-ridden family affair.
Emily Ruskovich’s novel has been welcomed with much praise which is completely justified. The structure of the novel demands of the reader a lot of attention: we have episodes set in 2004, others go back to the 80s or repeatedly to 1995 – the year of the central incident – but we also spring forward in time and finish in August 2025. But it is not only the chronologically interrupted timeline which requests concentration, the story is also told from multiple perspectives with different foci. The kaleidoscopic pieces have to be put together to form a complete whole and to understand – or at least get an idea – of what happened.
Apart from the construction of the plot, the most impressive aspect of the novel is Ruskovich’s ability of creating an atmosphere. The fact that she places the story in Idaho is not a coincidence, the specific makeup of the landscape is decisive for the action which could not happen anywhere. The characters are formed by nature in a certain way and reunite with it albeit all the technological advancement. The relationships are as complicated as nature is demanding, especially in winter time. Yet, the novel also illustrates what human beings are capable of, how forgiving they can be and how cruel.