Idaho

When I was studying my Creative Writing module, as part of my English Language and Literature degree, my tutor spoke about a feature of writing that incorporated film techniques. She tried to make us incorporate some of these techniques in our own writing, and cited the example of Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’, where the visual descriptions of Pip’s parents’ graves provide vivid imagery, almost like a camera panning out over the gravesite and then the view of the countryside spilling over the hills.

But that was where it stopped with Great Expectations.

And if you want to read a book that makes you feel like you are watching an emotive film, not just visually, then Idaho is the book for you.

Emily Ruskovich has a natural affinity for words. Her words are like vines, growing around the pages and entwining with her story, so they cease to be black letters on a white page, and instead become a blurred window into her motion picture.

She doesn’t just describe things, she adds a voice to them, increasing the volume when she needs to and beaming radio silence when the moment shouts for it. And what a loud silence it is.

And behind everything is the soft piano music, gently playing to the rhythm of the characters’ lives and they go forward and backward in time.

It is all very well for me to lament on the poetic nature of Ruskovich’s writing, but I expect the burning question you have is what is this book about?

And I shall tell you, and not tell you, all in one breath, because I can’t tell you what it is about without doing the book justice.

It’s about a family, both past and present, shattered by uncontrollable and controlled, horrific events, and a degenerative disease. It is breathtaking, yet slow paced. And it rises and rises in pitch as the book goes on, crashing loudly and beautifully at its highest peak, and then softly trundling down a rocky mountain towards the end. Ruskovich uses her writing talent to create a written film, and I mean this quite literally.

It took me three months to read this book. I know because I started it when my tulips started to sprout, and finished it today, when my tulips are long withered away and the summer flowers are in full bloom. It is a slow read, there is so much to take in, and the pace leaps about between timelines, so it is hard to keep up. I was also left frustrated at the end, because there were questions there that I felt weren’t answered sufficiently.

I sat back and thought about that, however. The book was written in such a way as to reflect real life themes, emotions and human growth and change, and in real life there aren’t always answers, there are only humans dealing with questions, and growing with them, until they become part of what defines us.

I thoroughly was mesmerized by Idaho, Emily Ruskovich ensnared me with her beautiful poetic prose, she flabbergasted me with how she dealt with such treacherous topics and yet managed to make something so vibrantly, painfully beautiful.

 

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Skyscraper

When I was a little girl, I lived in the torrid Arabian Peninsula. My schooling there was heavily influenced by American culture, and my father, an English professor at a university, had lots of thick books designed for literature students filled with short stories  written by Americans, for Americans.

I learned about Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou and the vibrancy of the early years of New York, I listened to the voices of African American writers and singers, and my view of America, although informed by the media, was mostly shaped by this romanticised idea of the biggest, brightest city in the world; New York. My favourite place there? Why, Harlem, of course. The dentists and doctors of Harlem, the mothers and aunts, hardworking and unfortunate, the white supremacy felt deeply by all the growing children of Harlem, the red popsicles and the hanging onto the back of pickup trucks, getting ankles scraped and leaving trails of blood everywhere.

I was British at heart, of course, that comes with parenting and daily living. In writing, however, I was North American. I was influenced by Anne of Green Gables and Jean Louise Scout. My style was American in the way I used slang and my views about freedom and coming of age.

When I first heard the word skyscraper, I imagined tall buildings that literally scraped the sky. Maybe shavings of cloud drifted down on the streets of New York as they floated lazily by. Maybe Langston Hughes, at nineteen, put his hand out the window and caught the sprinklings from the tips of the skyscrapers.

I never wanted to go to New York, I just wanted to drift through its gaudy streets and meet its uncertain inhabitants. I wanted to hide behind a door as I watched an old lady slap her son silly because he stole somebody’s purse. I wanted to hear all the stories by the evening window, and I wanted to be privy to the arguments that took place behind closed doors. It was life. It was living. It was people and magic and light and electricity flooding through the minds and souls of children just like me.

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Everybody has a story.