Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on
History of Wolves.
A teenager coming of age in a remote Minnesota town, a teacher accused of raping his student, and a complicated relationship between a babysitter and young mother form the bones of Emily Fridlund’s celebrated first novel, History of Wolves.
Set in a wooded northern Minnesota backwater town, History of Wolves introduces us to Linda, a 14-year-old who was raised in a cult that ultimately disbanded and now lives in a dilapidated cabin with two people who may or may not be her actual parents. Linda is more awkward than your normal teenager and struggles to find a place to belong both in school and with her strangely passive and uninvolved family. She latches on to the new teacher in town, a California transfer named Mr. Grierson, and obsesses over her beautiful yet damaged classmate Lily. When Mr. Grierson is sent away for alleged inappropriate behavior with Lily, Linda’s life becomes even more aimless—until new neighbors move in.
Linda becomes the babysitter to four-year-old Paul and confidante to his nervous and naïve mother. In a slow-building story arc, she begins to notice that things just aren’t right with this young family from the city—but what does she know? Things aren’t right with her family either. Fridlund is masterful at creating Linda as an incredibly believable character. By building her back story and current situation at a steady, creepy pace, her motivations and actions might not be normal, but they always fit.
The rest of the characters are not drawn as masterfully as Linda, but that doesn’t matter because this is quite obviously Linda’s story. Everything is seen through her skewed lens, making each new situation difficult to unravel yet fascinating to witness. It’s like watching a movie through a completely unrecognizable person’s eyes.
The only problem is, the person’s eyes we’re viewing it through is not very likable and nearly impossible to relate to. This goes for nearly every other character in History of Wolves, as well, including the four-year-old boy. Though the book comes off as gritty and realistic, having at least one character to root for or feel a connection with would have taken it to that next level of engagement.
A slow burn of sinister possibilities populated by damaged characters and set against the austere backdrop of a town largely untouched by the modern world, History of Wolves will get under your skin and make you think—though you may be glad to finish the last page and return to your own brighter world.