History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read this because it was on the Man Booker Prize Long List. I loved the title, the cover (peek inside the dust jacket), but that's where the love stopped.
At first glance, it was hard to stop comparing this book to Marlena by Julie Buntin, a book I read this summer. Both have girls in mid-teens as protagonists, in the woods of a rural northern state that starts with an Mi-, trying to navigate difficult situations with parents that are less than present. Comparing the two, I found Marlena to be better written, more cohesive, and more believable/realistic.
This novel starts by introducing Madeleine, who lives in the woods where a cult compound used to be. The only people left are her parents, at least two adults who are acting as her parents. Across the lake a woman and her child move in and she befriends them and becomes a sort of nanny to the 4-year-old. There is also a storyline going on about a teacher at Madeleine's school who is fired for inappropriate sexual conduct.
First let's take the school storyline. It was puzzling what place this had in the novel. She has one interaction with the teacher that explains the title, but it almost felt like the author was so attached to the title she was forcing this story in there. In the end, I don't think it belongs. The other student, Lily, who is stigmatized based on a rumor about her involvement with the same teacher, is an interesting story but shows up at strange moments. And Madeleine acts strangely towards Lily, in ways that are inconsistent with her character otherwise. There are moments where she seems to be threatening her, almost like a sociopath, but I have no idea where that came from. It seemed like a different novel.
It's also hard for me to think of the main character as Madeleine, because she introduces herself to the family across the lake as Linda, and most of the time when she is addressed, it is by this name.
Gradually a new topic of Christian Scientist and their beliefs against modern medicine starts to pop up. This was interesting but not as developed as it could be. It was like the author wanted to write it with suspense it didn't need, so the ideas are sprinkled in in such a way that even Linda has no idea what is going on. Having both the cult background plus the CS thread seeemed like overkill; the cult ultimately has no major role in the novel.
I was left unsatisfied. I would be shocked if it makes the Booker shortlist, but I've been wrong before. 2.5 stars.
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