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Emily Ruskovich’s debut novel is set in Idaho. A mother murders her child and her other child goes missing. A music teacher falls in love with the murderous woman’s husband who comes from a family whose men suffer from early onset dementia. These are the characters we live with for the duration of this story.
Usually I have a real problem with books that don’t reveal everything, or books that don’t develop characters enough so that I feel invested in them. This book does not give you all the gorey details of everything, so for the first part of the book my mind was actively trying to figure out where the twist might come so I wouldn’t miss it. I will tell you now, there is no twist. The beauty of this book is that your own imagination will flesh out the characters, your wonderings will make them whole as they themselves wonder about what has happened and try to live in a world in which these two children are gone.
Ruskovich seems to want you to experience things in this book. The frustration and duality of being a mother. Loss. New love. Living with mental illness. The complexity of family. Loneliness. All of it is described vividly and gorgeously in this book. None of it really finds an end because they are all cycles. To give any of the stories an end would be to lose the color, the depth, and the emotion brought to bear by Ruskovich’s words.
A central theme to the book is memory. Wade doomed to lose his due to a family history of early dementia. Ann trying to imagine the memories she does not have about a history that no one will fully reveal to her. Jenny trying to live with the memory in which she kills her own child. Brief glimpses of the the two children, one dead and one missing, in their own memories.
Nothing that happens in the past is explained. Not even Jenny herself ever has that confession moment where we find out her true motivation for swinging the hatchet that day. We just understand that it was done. This is not a mystery novel, it is a novel about what we do when terrible things happen to us and we are left standing afterwards. It is about how we move on and continue living.
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