HISTORY OF WOLVES, by Emily Fridlund, is a novel I have long been looking forward to reading. The cover speaks volumes about the harsh content of the story.
Fourteen-year-old Madeline ( Linda) Furston lives in an old cottage, the last of a commune, on a lake in the Walleye Capital of the World in Minnesota. Her parents are the sole survivors having given over any idea of a “normal” lifestyle. Linda lives an almost feral existence, walking miles to school each day, then back home sometimes in high snow drifts. Her parents pretty much allow her to raise herself. She’s in dire need of acceptance and is at the awkward age of sexual awakening.
When a young seemingly normal couple with a small child move in across the lake from Linda and her parents, she quickly befriends the mom, Patra, who hires her to babysit Paul who is four-years-old. Linda stays longer each day and spends more and more time with Patra and Paul. Leo, the dad, is mostly away for his work. But something is very wrong here. Paul is sick more often than not. But no diagnosis is mentioned.
Fridlund manages to remind us how frigid the cold can be in Minnesota in the winter, in the snow. And then how appropriately oppressive the heat is in the summer. She has nailed the way the fish are still beneath the solid ice during the deep freeze, and how the wildness of nature runs true to form. It’s hard to believe this is her first novel.
Linda’s history teacher is fired over rumors that he is a pedophile. Is he? And why does she throw herself at him? And what of her friend who disappears? At times I felt as if these “other” characters were part of another story. Well-written, just separate.
The tension builds slowly, almost painfully so. And then Leo comes home. And everything changes. The air becomes thick with unanswered questions and doubt. And much dread hangs over each page now.
To say this is a coming-of-age story is not doing it justice. It’s much more than that. And just when you think something unspeakable is going to happen, things change. But the unspeakable is still there, hovering in the wings, waiting for you to let your guard down. Making you more and more uncomfortable until you simply can’t bear it.
This is a haunting story that will stay with you long after the book ends. It will bother you. It might wake you up at night. It deals with authentic and horrifying guilt. And the death of innocence. It brings up excruciating issues of church and belief. And it might leave you worn out.
What did I think of HISTORY OF WOLVES. My first instinct is to say that I did not like this novel. But, it’s so well-written. And the sense of place is picture perfect. But, for me, I could have done without the content. The book is getting plenty of raves. And rightly so. But I just did not like the book. Boom! I read my copy digitally as a review copy and this is my honest review.
I wish I could love everything I read. Sadly, it is impossible. I feel I owe it to my readers to be as honest as I can be. For those of you who will read this novel, I hope you will leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.