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“History of Wolves” by Emily Fridlund

Let it go.

That’s what people say when others are upset: let it go. Shake it off. Can’t do anything about it now, so why dwell on it? Pretend like it never happened and that you didn’t see a thing — at least until, as in the new novel “History of Wolves” by Emily Fridlund, you can’t unsee anymore.

In just sixteen years of life, Madeline “Linda” Furston had seen two dead bodies.

The first one was her old history teacher: she sensed that he was dead before he was even carried from the middle-school. The second one, Paul, wasn’t dead when she last saw him, but he might as well have been.

Just two — which is hard to believe, considering that her early childhood was spent in a struggling commune. Nobody died there, though; instead, one by one, everyone drifted away to other places with electricity and bathrooms, or places less remote than northern Minnesota, until just Linda and her parents were alone. That left Linda with the ability to fend for herself, an understanding of wolf-like stealth, keen knowledge of surrounding woods and lakes, and the middle-school nickname of “Freak.”

With no friends, an introverted personality, and a preference for animals over people, Linda naturally kept to herself. It was easier, and safer… until the Gardner family arrived at the summer home across the way.

She’d spotted them moving in and watched them from the roof, so she felt as though she knew them before they even met. Paul, the four-year-old, took to Linda straight away; Patra, the mother, noticed, and hired Linda to spend time with the boy. Ten dollars a day was more than Linda could make as a waitress, and she liked Paul.

She was fascinated with Patra.

It was quite some time before Linda would meet Paul’s father.

Leo was eleven years older than his wife, a mostly-humorless, laser-focused astronomer who made Linda feel unsettled. He tried to engage her in serious philosophical and religious conversations but his beliefs were not hers, and never would be.

Especially when it came to the care of his son.

Here’s a nice surprise: I sincerely did not know where “History of Wolves” was taking me when I first started it.

It’s not a mystery; you know right away that something happened and it wasn’t good. It’s not a thriller, although it’s quietly thrilling. You can tell it’s a heart-wrencher, but you don’t know why until author Emily Fridlund has you well and hooked. Even what I’ve told you here won’t ruin the surprise of reading this book, partially because of a teenage main character who’s wise beyond her years. She tells this story from the viewpoint of a damaged, grown-up Linda, looking back, with slow pain that’ll make you howl.

This book starts off sluggishly and a little weird, but stick around; it’s laying the groundwork for a good character you’ll come to like. Read a little more, and “History of Wolves” will soon become a book you can’t let go.

“History of Wolves” by Emily Fridlund
c.2017, Atlantic Monthly
$25.00 / higher in Canada
279 pages

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