Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Reprise Review: Keeping Private Idaho by Rick Just

Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Satire


Coyote never seems to learn. Yet, he never fails to teach, mostly through the error of his ways. He taught the Nez Perce that they came from the Heart of the Monster. Now, he is teaching modern day Idahoans, they have a monster in their heart. This is Private Idaho, a place that exists in the minds of accidental natives and territorial pranksters who take out their resentments on tourists and real estate speculators. They are anonymous and deadly. In this tale of the New West, where the cowboys are women and the Indians wear Rollerblades, be alert for exploding potatoes, the allure of mineshafts and the terrible finesse of chainsaws.”

Rick Just is a native Idahoan who grew up on a ranch along the Blackfoot River. He is a former Marine, a whitewater kayaker, a sculptor, a sports car buff and the alpha male of his schnauzer pack. As a student, he served as editor of Boise State University's nationally acclaimed literary magazine, cold-drill. During Idaho's Centennial, Rick wrote and produced the official Centennial radio series, Idaho Snapshots, which aired daily on stations statewide. The program won the Governor's Take Pride in Idaho award and was honored in the national Take Pride in America program.”

To learn more about Mr. Just please visit his website.


I’m a sometimes Idahoan with roots in the state going back several generations. About twenty years ago I was living elsewhere and suggested to a co-worker, another expat-Idahoan, that beyond the obvious differences between rural and more populous areas common in most states, that Idaho was actually three states (maybe I should have said regions to be less divisive) with their own distinct cultural norms. The first of these is The Panhandle (which is a cross between their close neighbors of Eastern Oregon and Western Montana, with a dash of right-wing extremism thrown in to keep things interesting). Next is the Mormon influenced Southeast, in many ways more of a far-northern outpost of Utah. Last, is the Southwest, with Boise, the only significant urban area and Sun Valley, the two places most likely known to people largely unacquainted with the Gem State.

Each of these areas is represented by at least one significant character in Keeping Private Idaho, and the diversity of the characters in the novel is reflective of reality. Thrown into the mix is Coyote of Native American mythology as another major character. The large cast of characters was difficult to track in the beginning. As the story progressed and each distinctive personality solidified in my mind, that became less of a problem.

One thing each area of the state has in common is tourism as a significant industry. The timeframe when the story takes place (the mid-90s) was also a period when Idaho, along with many other western states, experienced conflict, with rapid growth, an influx of “outsiders” moving in (many from California), and rapid appreciation in housing prices. At times this caused disagreements and clashes between the natives and the newcomers, with bumper stickers saying “Don’t Californicate Idaho” as one obvious outward representation of those opposed to the changes.

It’s against this backdrop that the story of Keeping Private Idaho is told. It’s a cautionary tale (luckily the modern day Monkey Wrench Gang depicted here was never reality). Part of me realized while reading that some things, like a rural rancher wishing her city cousins would get as nostalgic about bucking hay as they did during branding season, wouldn’t evoke the same knowing chuckle from everyone as it did for me. Some of the subtle humor (the names of the children in the Thompson family, for example) wouldn’t tickle the funny bone for everyone, like it did for me. (In fact, most people would probably have to have it explained to even realize there was humor there.)

However, Keeping Private Idaho also explores some universal themes, dealing with change and the concept of geographical and cultural roots, being the two that resonated most with me. I would expect those parts of the story to be entertaining and thought provoking for all readers, even those who have never been within a thousand miles of the state.

Buy now from:    Amazon US    Amazon UK


Added for Reprise Review: Keeping Private Idaho was a nominee in the Contemporary/Literary/General category for B&P 2015 Readers' Choice Awards. Original review ran April 22, 2014

Format/Typo Issues:

No significant issues.

Rating: ***** Five Stars

Reviewed by: BigAl

Approximate word count: 70-75,000 words

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