Published by Grove Atlantic on January 3rd 2017
Genres: Literary Fiction
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.
History of Wolves is one of those novels that I couldn’t put down but, in the end, I have mixed feelings about.
Linda is a socially awkward 14 year old girl living in Minnesota with her family. Her parents, especially her mother, are somewhat strange and detached. When the Gardener family moves in across the lake, Linda begins babysitting for their four year old son,Paul, while Paul’s mother, Patra, edits a research paper her husband, Leo, has written.
On the first page we learn that Paul has “gone from living to dead”. The story then toggles back and forth between learning of the details and decisions that lead to Paul’s death and an obsession that Linda has with one of her classmates, Lily, and what may or may not have transpired between her and a teacher who has since been convicted of child pornography.
The book has a lot going for it. It is very obvious that Emily Fridlund is an extremely talented writer. She absolutely succeeded in making me feel as if I was there watching the events unfold. She has an amazing ability to be very detailed in her description of people and places without seeming too “wordy”. The characters are well-developed and thoughtfully rendered. Paul’s story made me experience a huge range of emotions from grief to anger and disbelief.
I did have trouble, though, with the story of Lily and Mr. Grierson. While I understand how that story relates to Paul’s in terms of where Linda is in her life and her struggles to fully come to grips with her role in Paul’s death, there was something about it that just didn’t work for me. I also struggled to appreciate the end of the book.
As a debut, History of Wolves, introduces us to an undeniably talented writer. Though I’m not able to give this book the five star rating I had anticipated at the beginning, I will certainly be looking forward to reading Ms. Fridlund’s next novel.
3.75/5 glasses of wine