I review History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund.
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 another coming-of-age story that will resonate with many people. Linda, mostly left to raise herself by hippy, laid-back parents, lives in Northern Minnesota, on grounds that used to belong to a commune, of which her parents were members.
“Winter collapsed on us that year. It knelt down, exhausted, and stayed.”
Linda is fourteen, melodramatic, poetic. She’s somewhat obsessed with a classmate, Lily, who spread rumours that their teacher, Mr Grierson, took her off and molested her. Linda’s narrative often veers off into dark corners, and the way the story is told (bouncing back and forth, from teenage Linda to older Linda, reminiscing) only serves to increase the feeling of unease as the reader continues through the story.
Linda also spends a lot of time babysitting Paul, a toddler who moved into a cabin across the lake with his mother, Patra. Paul’s father, Leo, is often working away, but when he arrives, Linda’s relationship with Patra becomes strained. Patra is young, closer to Linda’s age than to what Linda might consider a parent, and her youth becomes glaringly obvious when her older husband appears. You know that something happens, something bad, but Fridlund trickles the information into your mind, keeping you hooked until the very last page.
I did want to know more about the commune. Perhaps Fridlund will consider writing a prequel to History of Wolves. If so, I’d love to read it. The crisp writing reminded me of books like Winter’s Bone and Eileen. Dark, wintry, honest. Fridlund is an extraordinary writer, and History of Wolves is a haunting debut.