Sunday, January 8, 2017
The History of Wolves
I stumbled upon Emily Fridlund's debut novel quite by accident, but once I began reading, I felt I had locked eyes with a wolf in the wild: fully entranced, it sent shivers of excitement, terror, and disbelief up and down my spine in an instant.
The plot synopsis from GoodReads says, "Linda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her 'Freak', or 'Commie'. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family's orbit, she realises they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; but if she doesn't, their son may die.
Superbly-paced and beautifully written, HISTORY OF WOLVES is an extraordinary debut novel about guilt, innocence, negligence, well-meaning belief and the death of a child."
I felt such worry for Linda in that given her own less-than-conventional upbringing, she was not equipped to care for 4 year old Paul Gardener in a way that would allow her to understand that something was amiss. I wanted at several points to shout out, "That's not normal! You should tell someone!" But alas, no one had done that for her, so how was she to know?
There were also times when I wanted to gaurd Linda herself, to reach out and grab her by the arm and say, "Come on, we've got to get out of here. This isn't going to turn out well!" It really made me feel I was witnessing a tragedy and powerless to stop it.
Throughout the book, Linda relies on her obsevational skills and instincts. That would be great fodder for book club discussion! In fact, there is much about Linda's own ruminations regarding her life and experiences that would fuel great discussion! (For example, the differences between thoughts and actions, parenting styles, and if there is social boundary between religious beliefs and a community's need to protect its most vulnerable members just to name a few.) It would be great to hear the differing views between readers, each coming to the book with their own background assumptions and experiences.
Once I started, I found it very hard to put this book down. I gave History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund 4 out of 5 stars on GoodReads.
From the Author's Website . . .
One of the most daring literary debuts of the season, History of Wolves is a profound and propulsive novel from an urgent, new voice in American fiction.
Teenage Linda lives with her parents in the austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outsider at school, Linda is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is faced with child pornography charges, his arrest deeply affects Linda as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.
And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Linda finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. But with this new sense of belonging come expectations and secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a summer, Linda makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. As she struggles to find a way out of the sequestered world into which she was born, Linda confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love.
Winner of the McGinnis-Ritchie award for its first chapter, and A BEA Buzz Book and An ABA Indies Introduce Selection, Emily Fridlund’s agonizing and gorgeously written History of Wolves introduces a new writer of enormous range and talent.
About the Author . . .
Emily Fridlund grew up in Minnesota and currently resides in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Her fiction has appeared in a variety of journals, including Boston Review, Zyzzyva, FiveChapters, New Orleans Review, Sou'wester, New Delta Review, Chariton Review, Portland Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly. Fridlund's collection of stories, Catapult, won the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and will be published by Sarabande in 2017.