cover image Ruthie Fear

Ruthie Fear

Maxim Loskutoff. Norton, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-63556-0

Loskutoff’s superb debut novel (after the collection Come West and See) sets a revisionist contemporary western in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. Ruthie Fear is abandoned as a toddler by her mother and raised by her father, Rutherford, a man “angry at the rich, the government, and Ruthie’s departed mother in varying order and intensity.” One night, on the outskirts of No-Medicine Canyon, six-year-old Ruthie and her dog, Moses, see a terrifying headless creature. She and her friend Pip then spend years searching for this “wrongness in the woods.” As earthquakes, mudslides, and droughts make Ruthie feel “shadowed by violence,” mill jobs dry up, and developments and mansions are constructed, creating brutal divides among the rich and poor, the whites and Salish natives, and the “arrogant” scientists who work at a local lab and look down on the “uneducated rednecks” who live in trailers and spend their money on machine guns. At 15, Ruthie, still obsessed with the headless creature, attends a protest at the lab, where she imagines evil, unnatural deeds taking place. Loskutoff captures the vast and lonely land along with its beauty with breathtaking descriptions of violence and empathy, and ends with a shocking and poignant surprise. With its humor and heart, Loskutoff’s harrowing tale offers a heroine to root for. This one hits hard. (Sept.)