This is the second book I’ve read this year that portrays a family tragedy more as a series of snapshots than a continuous, easy-to-follow narrative. The first was Idaho, in which a woman marries a man whose life with his first wife imploded in the wake of a sudden accident in the woods. In History of Wolves, a teenage babysitter latches onto a neighbor family that on the outside seems good and wholesome, especially after the girl’s troubled childhood in a now-defunct cult group, but upon closer inspection is hiding a sinister, devastating secret.
What’s great about the structure of both novels is how much room there is for interpretation, and how much close detail you get within each scene. What isn’t great about it is basically those same two things. Room for interpretation can also feel like lack of closure, and close detail only helps when the key scenes happen onstage, where we can see them. If all the big stuff happens when the narrator isn’t present, or if the narrator is deliberately withholding, well, let’s just say after being forced to make the fifteenth inference, the bloom comes off the rose for me.
With both books, I felt all the emotions of the characters keenly—maybe too keenly, as History of Wolves in particular really harshed my Sunday mellow as I tried to finish the last few chapters last weekend—but I still had so many questions once I finished reading, it didn’t feel like one of those Sad-But-Important-Book experiences. It just made me sad.
So who would enjoy this book? If you like great writing, Emily Fridlund is definitely going to be a writer to watch, as this is a debut. If you like ambiguity and putting together subtle clues, or if you’re the kind of person who is fine resting in the tension, so to speak, History of Wolves will probably be a home run for you. For my part, I think I’m going to shelve my Ambiguity Hat for a while and put on my Fun Diversion Beret.
With regards to Grove Atlantic and NetGalley for the review copy. On sale now!