Ruskovich’s debut opens to the strains of a literary thriller but transforms into a lyrical meditation on memory, loss, and grief in the American West.
Ann, a young music teacher, falls in love with Wade Mitchell, the father of two girls in her school, over piano lessons. That summer, Wade’s family is ripped apart by a tragedy that leaves one daughter dead, another missing, and Wade’s now-ex-wife, Jenny, serving a life sentence for murder. Against all odds, Ann and Wade marry, and she tries to soothe her new husband’s insurmountable grief by piecing together what happened that day. Her efforts are thwarted by Wade’s creeping dementia, which has a tendency to turn violent. Ann is left with only the powers of her imagination to reconstruct an account of the murder, putting her personal safety at risk as Wade becomes less predictable. Like memory, Ann's shifting vision of that day is fleeting, ephemeral, and imperfect, scattered as easily as "dozens of blackbirds, startled at nothing." In fact, her emotional porousness might be a key for the entire novel, which hopscotches across more than 50 years and multiple perspectives to draw connections, parallels, and portraits of the men and women who populate Ruskovich’s Idaho. We also catch glimpses of Elizabeth, Jenny’s cellmate; Wade’s fractured recollections of his childhood and first marriage; the final days of May, Wade’s murdered daughter; and, at long last, Jenny herself. Ruskovich builds poetry out of observing the smallest details—moments of narrative precision and clarity that may not illuminate what happened the day of the murder but which push the reader to interrogate the limits of empathy. Fans of lush, psychological dramas like the BBC miniseries Top of the Lake or Broadchurch have their winter reading cut out for them.
A provocative first novel filled to the brim with dazzling language, mystery, and a profound belief in the human capacity to love and seek forgiveness.