Title: History of Wolves
Author: Emily Fridlund
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 10th January 2017
Synopsis: Already being acclaimed as one of the most exciting new voices of 2017, Emily Fridlund’s HISTORY OF WOLVES is a brilliant coming-of-age novel that will appeal to fans of THE GIRLS and THE VIRGIN SUICIDES
Even a lone wolf wants to belong…
Fourteen-year-old Linda lives with her parents in an ex-commune beside a lake in the beautiful, austere backwoods of northern Minnesota. The other girls at school call Linda ‘Freak’, or ‘Commie’. Her parents mostly leave her to her own devices, whilst the other inhabitants have grown up and moved on.
So when the perfect family – mother, father and their little boy, Paul – move into the cabin across the lake, Linda insinuates her way into the family’s orbit. She begins to babysit Paul and feels welcome – that she finally has a place to belong.
Yet something isn’t right. Drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand, Linda must make a choice. But how can a girl with no real knowledge of the world understand what the consequences will be?
Isolated her whole life with her parents, living in a forest, near a lake in northern Minnesota, an ex-commune, Linda’s only contact with the rest of the world is school, and a new teacher, Mr. Grierson, and classmate, Lily Holburn. That is, until a family moves across the lake from Linda and her parents – Paul, Patra and Leo. Leo’s absence at first is suspicious, but he soon turns up, and Linda finds herself in a world of conflicting beliefs. Underlying the novel is the idea of religious beliefs, such as Christian Science, which influences the events of the novel, and young Paul in ways that Linda, and the reader, will not expect. It is a story that gives details in dribs and drabs, a technique that has the potential to work or not – and in this case, I think it has been successful.
The novel is written from the point of view of an older Linda, one who has left the confines of the forest, lake and isolation for a chance at a life beyond, a job and possibly, to escape the memories of the summer she was fifteen years old. She relives that year through flashbacks, interspersed with later events. Emily Fridlund doesn’t spell everything out to the reader – she drops hints, and clues, and then flashes to another event that seems unrelated and ordinary. Eventually, all these hints, clues and possible red herrings become connected. In revealing these events slowly, Fridlund’s novel has a slow start, a mysterious start that can either compel the reader to continue and find out what happened to Paul, his parents, Linda, Lily and Mr. Grierson. At first, I wasn’t sure whether I would continue – yet Linda’s yearning to belong somewhere other than the life she is in, and her decisions that lead her to that point were a little too compelling and I felt I had to read on to the end.
Linda’s history project on wolves turns up early in the novel – and acts as a metaphor for her life, it seems. The people in her life are a pack of wolves – Leo, Patra and Paul. Leo is an alpha, and Linda, a lone wolf, is searching for a pack to belong to. That is, her place in the world.
Linda’s world is one of secrets – especially when it comes to Paul and his parents. When babysitting Paul, Linda begins to notice odd behaviour from him now and then – but without real world experiences, she questions how she could have foreseen the consequences of the actions of various people that summer – and in turn, her own sense of belonging in the world.
An intriguing, mysterious novel that people will either want to devour or set aside, I have found it difficult to decide whom to recommend this book to. Perhaps readers who enjoy a good mystery, especially one that is observed by someone who feels powerless to act, and powerless to help, yet in the end, must find the courage to stand up and find her place in the world.