Fair warning: this will be full of spoilers because I can’t not talk about some things. So, x out now if you don’t want the plot ruined.
This is more for me than it is for you. I think this will end up being more of a self-reflection than a proper book review, so here’s your second chance to bail out. 😉
I can’t recall how I came upon History of Wolves. I subscribe to EW strictly for their book recs, so I think it was in a recent issue that gave a one-sentence blurb about lots of books. Maybe it was because the cover was inviting in its simplicity, maybe it was that its title made me think of my obsession with Game of Thrones (#whereisghost). Whatever it was, it was a meant to be.
Linda, a 14-year-old Minnesotan, is deeply connected to nature. Raised on a commune as an only child, Linda spent her childhood in the woods understanding how nature works and how it’s all interconnected, how the extremes of both hot, but especially cold, weather affects everything, how to survive. As much as she is interested in her surroundings, she is obviously very lonely, though she doesn’t seem to notice. She seems very confident in her independence, yet her lack of meaningful relationships with her peers and parents leaves her awkward and obvious, a target for others.
It’s not until she strikes up an uncomfortable relationship with a teacher that she finally shows her yearning for connection, however inappropriate. When the teacher is later accused of having a relationship with another student and possessing child porn (Don’t worry, this concept isn’t discussed in detail.), Linda is left feeling confused and rejected. One has to remember that she’s a teenager, and everything that is NOT about her IS about her.
In fact, that’s one thing that Fridlund does well: immersing the reader into the mind of a self-absorbed teenager so that no matter how many years has passed from adolescence to adulthood, the reader remembers immediately how it feels to see the world through ego-centric glasses.
This novel leaves me with 2 main take-aways:
- (Remember, you were warned: major spoiler!) First, I had absolutely no idea what Christian Science was. Maybe if I had, I would have been tipped off by the 2 sections of the book: Science and Health. I don’t think Christian Science in the book is supposed to be a larger metaphor or a slam on any organized religion. Rather, I think it speaks to the extremes people will go to in order to stick to their beliefs, even at the expense of common sense and ethical compassion.
- Second, I made a bit of a discovery. When I was reading about Linda’s quirky idiosyncrasies, I immediately thought of my best friend’s pre-teen daughter. I almost sent her a text to tell her that she needed to read this book about this wise-beyond-her-years, woodsy girl. But the more I read, the more I realized that Linda actually reminded me of myself as a teenager. For a good portion of the novel, I sympathized with her on just about every level. Like Linda, I grew up in poverty. Like Linda, I did not know how to connect to others because I was alone so often. Like Linda, I carelessly misplaced my trust in others, believed anything, and yearned for acceptance. Linda isn’t always the most likable character, but she’s almost always a sympathizing character (although a little questionable during the last few pages of the novel). I don’t think I would like me as a teenager, either, and that’s why characterization crowns Fridlund Queen.
I pride myself on figuring out plot before it happens, but it turns out I had nothing figured out at all. When I did make a prediction (and I made several, mind you), I was pleasantly surprised not to have called it in the end. This novel was not predictable, and perhaps that was due to my not knowing a whole lot about the book before I read it.
Fridlund’s style did take some getting used to. At times, I loved it, and other times it bothered me. For example, “He’s four, he’s got an owl puzzle to do, don’t talk to him” (1). The structure of that sentences makes me pause and read it again, not because it’s particularly beautiful but because it doesn’t flow like I think the author intended. Maybe it’s me. It’s probably just me. Other times, I read certain phrases and sentences over and over again because they were beautiful to me. Take this one for imagery, for example, “The truth was, that old woodstove was narcotic and banal to me as a child, so I was drawn to it without seeing it, and hated it without wondering why. The winter I was nine, I laid my cheek against it while I was reading Mush, a Manual on the floor. The burn made a bubble of clear skin–a round half globe like the air bladder of a fish–under my left eye. The bubble grew as the days passed, rose translucently from my face, obstructed my vision when I looked down” (158). Just gorgeous. Another stylistic choice is the use of flashbacks and flash forwards. This novel is always jumping around, 1-5ish pages per time period, and it makes for a seemingly fast read. Frindlund is masterful at tying all of the relationships together by piecing them together in the alternate time lines, and it’s a nice added layer of complexity to the novel.
When I began this blog, I really wanted to discuss the ending, but since this blog is mainly for me and my reflection, I’m going to pass on that. The ending was…something…and it needed to be revisited a couple of times the next day to make sure the meaning was conveyed. The ending didn’t sit well with many people on Goodreads, so those who suffer from What-Did-I-Miss? syndrome will be in good company. Such a shame, too, that a book that was so constructed so well ended up having a leaky roof. It’s the only reason I didn’t give the book a 5-star rating.
I highly recommend this book. As far as enjoyment of plot and characterization, this one is up there on my best-of-the-year list, no doubt.
P.S. This novel is on the Booker Prize long list. I think, despite the ending, it’s deserving to be on the short list, which will be announced on Sept. 13.