Questions and Topics for Discussion
Though at the novel’s center is an act of shocking violence, this is also a story about many different kinds of love. What are these various forms of love? What role does love play in this novel, and how does love contribute to the feelings you are left with in the end?
When Wade’s memory begins to fail, Ann endures humiliation and physical pain because of his actions, which, to someone outside of the relationship, would look like domestic abuse. Discuss the ways in which she copes with these episodes. How does Ann interpret these acts of violence, and what does that say about her as a character? Did you feel nervous and uncomfortable about the fine line she is walking between her love and her safety?
What are other examples of sacrifice in this novel?
Consider the structure of the book: the shifting narrative voices and the shifting timeline, spanning nearly fifty years. How does the book’s structure influence your understanding of each character and his or her story? Discuss also the inclusion of minor perspectives, like the bloodhound and Eliot.
What role does art play in this story? Consider music, painting, and poetry. How do you understand Tom Clark’s motivations?
Near the end of the novel, Ann remembers learning about the history of Idaho’s name. How does this history inform her own life? Why is Idaho the title of this novel? Discuss also the role the landscape plays in the interior lives of all the characters. How would you characterize this landscape?
Female friendship and sisterhood are major themes. Discuss the various relationships between the female characters, including the children. Is female friendship the saving grace of this story?
How do you interpret the act of violence that is at the heart of this story? Do you feel that Ann’s interpretation is correct? Why do you think the author chose to tell only as much as she did? Why did she decide not to provide an absolute answer?
Do you sympathize with Jenny, in spite of what she’s done? Why or why not? If you had to choose only one moment in the story that characterized Jenny, would it be her act of violence, or something else? How do you think she understands herself?
Are you surprised by the end of Ann’s story? Jenny’s? Why or why not?