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History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

BOTTOM LINE: An impressive debut that hits all the right notes

Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication Date: 3 January 2017
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis from the Publisher:

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.

Winner of the McGinnis-Ritchie award for its first chapter, and a BEA Buzz book and an ABA Indies Introduce selection, Emily Fridlund’s agonizing and gorgeously written History of Wolves introduces a new writer of enormous range and talent.

My Thoughts: History of Wolves is not an easy novel. It runs the gamut from covering an old commune to pedophilia to a family tragedy. Told through the eyes of a young woman who must reconcile her emotions with the facts, she reveals the secrets in small pieces. It is by turns frustrating and hypnotic all while the ominous tone makes you dread the final reveal.

Moreover, Linda is not an easy character. She is vulnerable but prickly, not even willing to let the reader close to her but so desperately in want of love and affection. She aches for normalcy even while she understands that her unique upbringing provides her with opportunities to learn skills most people pay large sums of money to learn. It is easy to see how she gets caught up in the Gardner family tragedy and why she considers Mr. Grierson to be a victim rather than a predator.

It is difficult to decide what is most impressive about Emily Fridlund’s debut novel – the story itself or that she is a debut author. The fact is that History of Wolves has all of the hallmarks of being penned by an experienced novelist with its exquisite language, complexity of characters, and taut pacing. It is an impressive story from an even more impressive author.

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