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History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

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.

Notes

Finished: Apr 2021

Rating (out of 5): ⭐⭐⭐

This was a nice book. Probably 3.5 stars, rounded down. I enjoyed the writing style, and I genuinely enjoy books like this where technically “nothing ever really happens”.

That’s not strictly true. A character dies, and we’re told they will on page one. The book isn’t about what happens, but how it happens, and I like that about it.

I had a few analyses. To what extent is Linda a reliable narrator? I think not much. Is her obsession with Lily and Mr. Grierson a psychological way of dealing with the fact that he actually assaulted Linda, not Lily? To what extent were certain passages and events a construction by Linda, and not the actual events that occurred? Is Linda dealing with an unhealthy lack of understanding of her own queerness, that never gets addressed through the novel? I think so, given the careful descriptions of her physical attractions and obsessions with the physical intimacy of other female characters.

I read this whole book in a single day, so it certainly kept me engaged. It raised some interesting questions that, if pressed, I could write a good high school analysis essay about. But I don’t think this will be a book I spend much time reflecting on, or thinking back on. The characters did not grab me, I was not invested. Their tragedies were unsympathetic and their lives didn’t come vibrantly through the page. It was a nice read, and I recommend it to those like me who enjoy poignant, passive, thoughtful prose that’s not terribly action-packed. But for a story (or even a character portrait), it falls short.

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