Max Lostukoff to present new novel, 'Ruthie Fear' at AAI's Open Book Club

From the beginning, Maxim Loskutoff's debut novel, Ruthie Fear, rings with foreboding.

The protagonist, Ruthie, lives in a ramshackle trailer with her father, Rutherford, in Montana's Bitterroot Valley under the watchful eye of Trapper Peak, which is "hooked like a finger beckoning her above the treeline" and looks down on her like the missing mother she pines for.

Cast adrift from the shuttered local lumber mill, Rutherford scrounges for odd construction jobs. He survives by hunting and performing homegrown taxidermy – using beetles to pick meat off the bones of wild game. As a youngster, to find solace, Ruthie, sleeps on the rug made from the last wolf shot in a valley that's gentrifying under her feet by interlopers seeking wild places.

That dynamic – Ruthie's love-hate relationship with her beer-drinking father, changing landscape and cultural anger – drive this novel as Ruthie grows and questions familial bonds, childhood friends, and the world around her.

Haunted by a "headless creature" she had seen in a nearby canyon as a girl, Ruthie grows older and closer to her father, who questions her sighting and instills in her a love of guns. She felt nearest to him when he was closely holding her, teaching her to breathe, how to pull a trigger. But a hopeless malaise consumes Ruthie, a product of the unrequited love for which she longs in her series of misadventures with small-town boys and big-city men.

Her father "was angry at the rich, the government, and Ruthie's departed mother in varying order and intensity." Ruthie, meanwhile, tries to "imagine life with another family in another town. Going out to dinner, shopping at the mall."

As he did with his 2018 story collection, Come West and See, Loskutoff, who was raised in small towns, paints a picture of the West that is much different than the one depicted in the mythic portrayals by Hollywood, travel magazines, and Instagram.

He casts an unblinking eye at the hardscrabble world overlooked by tourists, and takes readers deeply into life in a community known for its anti-government characters. Overlaying this is an unease felt by locals that the community they've known is changing, not for the better, and likely to be consumed by another class from somewhere else.

Loskutoff's sharp-eyed prose deftly makes characters come to life in a drama playing out across Montana, where mill towns turn to tourist destinations and tech hubs – places where people relocate "who don't need a job."

Rutherford laments: " 'They keep taking things from me. My pond, my woods, my view. It's like they won't stop until there's nothing left.' 'Dad,' she said again. I'm still here.

While still here, Ruthie's saddled by the past, and afraid of what the future will bring to her valley and the wild animals with whom she is kin.

Like a spring squall in Montana, Loskutoff delivers an unpredictable – and thought-provoking – ending in which Ruthie seeks balance and redemption: Facts and myth are intertwined, allowing readers to interpret what they've witnessed, and what'll come next.

Join us to hear Lustokoff read from Ruthie Fear at Alpine Artisans' Open Book Club Saturday, April 29 at 7 pm at the Seeley Lake Community Foundation Building. Free. Everyone welcome.


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