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History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
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History of Wolves (2017)

by Emily Fridlund

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6043723,204 (3.6)1 / 94

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English (36)  French (1)  All languages (37)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Right from the title one knows this novel is gonna be studious and layered. Seen as brilliant by the great (T C Boyle!), earning a place on the short list of the Booker, receiving plenty of prizes for the first chapter alone, it is the kind of novel that eludes me or put differently - makes me feel dumb. Yes I can see this is terse, sophisticated writing – concise, layered, full of natural metaphors (dark woods, isolated, winds, water, hunts, fish, snow, ice), and from a vantage point of a teenage girl growing up in a weird world. In fact, looking back, her first chapter contains all the threads that she will spin out in the novel. There is the frustration and utter desolation of a commune that failed – an experience that is translated into parents that have no time for a child that started out as part of communal troupe of children. There is the high school teacher who can’t resist the temptation of young flesh, singling out Mattie for her brains, whilst crossing the line with the pin up girl in class (who ends up pregnant, and the teacher ends up in jail). Linked to the latter there is the failed history project (on Wolves) that Mattie (also known as Linda) pursues under this teacher’s wing. Mattie wants to be seen, but not for her brain power. She wants what the pin-up girl got in the end. Mattie has fantasized about it so often. And finally there is the main theme of the book, Mattie taking care of Paul, a four year old toddler, who is the only child of a Christian Scientology family that comes to stay in the cottage across the lake from Mattie. Paul’s mom Patra is overly impressed, almost slavishly so, by her husband Leo, the scientist. Mattie takes Paul on outings to give some relieve to Patra. Slowly Mattie gets emotionally attached to Patra, and over-awed by Leo. In the end she joins the couple to Duluth for a family outing. Paul falls ill, but nobody acts. Leo performs a suspenseful act, whereby more or less nobody is allowed to act (God is the only one who will, or will not, act… And thoughts are more real than acts…). Everybody realises this is a test. Only Mattie manages to break the spell (by going out getting aspirin), but when she returns, getting an unexpected lift from a helpful holidaying family, she also fails to take responsibility, and the inevitable happens. In the aftermath the family is let off the hook, on religious belief grounds. This novel is an indictment. Subtle, yet harrowing. ( )
  alexbolding | Aug 12, 2018 |
In her Booker Prize-shortlisted first novel, History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund has written an emotionally restrained yet poignant and wistful coming-of-age story that demonstrates that adults don’t always know best and that some situations can’t be salvaged no matter how good everyone’s intentions are. Madeline Furston, who prefers the name Linda (though she is also called ‘Freak’ by her classmates), is fourteen and lives in the lake district of northern Minnesota with her distracted and idealistic parents. The Furstons are the last remaining occupants of a remote, lake-front commune that her parents helped establish years earlier, when Linda was very young. Linda, who disdains the company of children her own age, is portrayed by Fridlund as a solitary, independent thinker (an inclination inherited from and unintentionally encouraged by her parents), fearless, a good student, and analytical beyond her years, particularly when it concerns the actions of the adults in her life. Linda relates her account in two narrative threads and after the passage of many years, from the perspective of someone looking back on a formative period in her life. In the first, when a new history teacher, Mr. Grierson, arrives at the school, the children are not sure what to make of an earnest young man trying hard to fit in and be liked. He seems harmless, a bit of a klutz, easily mocked, and in a wilful and impetuous moment Linda tries her hand at flirting with him, a move she later regrets. In the novel’s main thread, Linda is intrigued when a young family moves into the cottage across the lake from her house: a young man and woman and their toddler son. Curious and seeking companionship, she approaches the Gardner family and is quickly accepted into the fold, entrusted by the mother, Patra, to babysit her son Paul. It is spring. Leo Gardner, Patra’s husband and Paul’s father, a research scientist, is away working. A close and trusting bond quickly forms between Linda and Paul, but Patra, an anxious child-like woman who lacks confidence and seems lost without her husband, is incapable of committing to a genuine friendship. Upon Leo’s return, Linda is dismayed by the deferential and subservient turn in Patra’s behaviour, and in Leo’s company Linda remains guarded and subtly hostile, never sure where she stands with him. Throughout the narrative, from time to time, Linda hints at a momentous event and ensuing trial, but leaves the details vague until the latter sections of the novel. Fridlund imbues her story with great foreboding, each mention of the trial whetting the reader’s appetite for a tense and riveting courtroom drama. That the story does not really deliver on this promise is somewhat of a disappointment, though Fridlund does resolve Linda’s story in an emotionally satisfying manner. In the end, the reader of History of Wolves is left with the impression of a complex and exquisitely written novel that succeeds on many levels, but which might be trying to do too many things at once. ( )
  icolford | Jul 23, 2018 |
This felt like two halves of two different good stories that inexplicably got merged together, but never really fit. While this wasn't completely convincing, I do think the author has promise and will look forward to seeing what she writes next. ( )
  NeedMoreShelves | Jul 8, 2018 |
This book started out very strongly for me. Linda is a teenage girl living in what amounts to a shack in the Minnesota woods with her (mostly) benignly neglectful parents when she meets the family across the lake and starts baby-sitting their young son. She only gradually realizes something is off with the family; they are Christian Scientists, and the son is sick but not being treated. This plot line caught me and pulled me in, but there is also a subplot involving Linda's teacher and another girl who first accuses the teacher of rape, then takes it back. Linda is weirdly obsessed with these two people, and the final scene of the book, which involves the other girl, I found strange and unsatisfying. Also toward the end, the narrative jumps back and forth between teenage and adult Linda. Although the writing was good and the sense of place was very strong, the story didn't quite gel in the end. ( )
  sturlington | Jul 6, 2018 |
Weird book, very well written and provoking. I found myself in the main character's skin without even noticing it was happening; all of a sudden, I was 14 again and I had to face a situation I was not prepared for. I see why it was a finalist for the Man Booker, and maybe also the reason why it didn't win it. ( )
  Eva_Filoramo | May 3, 2018 |
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Emily Fridlundprimary authorall editionscalculated
Vries, Erik deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Become conscious for a single moment that Life and intelligence are purely spiritual,—neither in nor of matter,— and the body will then utter no complaints.

—Mary Baker Eddy,
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures
I won’t be dying after all, not now, but will go on living dizzily hereafter in reality, half-deaf to reality, in the room perfumed by the fire that our inextinguishable will begins.

—Timothy Donnelly, “The New Intelligence”
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For Nick
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It's not that I never think about Paul.
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""So delicately calibrated and precisely beautiful that one might not immediately sense the sledgehammer of pain building inside this book. And I mean that in the best way. What powerful tension and depth this provides!"-Aimee Bender. Fourteen-year-old Linda lives with her parents in the beautiful, 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 outlander at school, Linda is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is charged with possessing child pornography, the implications of his arrest deeply affect 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. It seems that her life finally has purpose but with this new sense of belonging she is also drawn into secrets she doesn't understand. Over the course of a few days, 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, Emily Fridlund's propulsive and gorgeously written History of Wolves introduces a new writer of enormous range and talent"--… (more)

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