What I found most striking upon finishing Idaho was that the fate of the daughter who ran away after her mother murders her sister—who was never found dead or alive—remains a question at book’s end. Emily Ruskovich resists giving us the answer to this central mystery. Just as Ann, Wade, and Jenny will never know if May survived the woods or if her bones lie there, the reader will never know her fate either.
The question of May’s fate is introduced early on in the book, and it signaled a very different story was coming than what the introduction sets up. My heart sank a bit at this mysterious reveal, as it seemed to be there for the sole purpose of giving the book a missing-child conceit the rest of the novel would be framed around—the sort of narrative device that guarantees a tidy conclusion as May is either discovered dead or returns, years later, alive. I should’ve had more faith; Ruskovich includes this information for the exact opposite effect. Each step tentatively taken to finding May—the missing-child posters, the artist who painstakingly draws her as a teenager and young woman—is there to give the reader hope that she might be found, just as they give Ann hope that she’ll someday gain a sliver of the information she so desperately desires.
But there is no miraculous discovery that May is alive, and no confirmation that she’s dead (which seems far more likely). With this withholding of information, Ruskovich elevates the story and all that came before the ending, as it becomes clear that none of the efforts to find May come to anything in the end. It’s a story as devastating as real life.