Review: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund


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Fourteen-year-old Madeline 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, Madeline 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 Madeline as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.

And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Madeline 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, Madeline 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, Madeline confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love.


History of Wolves is tough to describe but even tougher to review. Rarely do I look at other reviews to see what other people have said because I do not want my thoughts and opinions to be swayed by others. This is one of those books that breaks all of the rules. I read several professional and reader reviews to try to sum up my feelings on this novel. After some time, my best description of History of Wolves is that it is like a beautiful piece of furniture, a couch or a chair, that you buy because it looks amazing with everything, but once anyone tries to sit on it, they realize that the chair is actually pretty uncomfortable.

The story revolves around Madeline (or Linda) when she is fourteen, as narrated by her  when she is thirty-seven year old. Two big things in her life happen that year, Mr. Greirson becomes her history teacher and gets arrested for having child pornography and inappropirate conduct with another student, Lily. This dashes Linda’s hopes of having someone who she can trust. At this same time, the Gardners move into a cabin across the lake from her, Leo, Petra, and their son Paul. They employ Linda as their babysitter and as she gets to know them better, the emotional attachment becomes stranger and stranger.. 

The telling of the story is the uncomfortable part. There are many times when the story wanders away, through the woods, and comes back much later. Linda gets sidetracked with the things that are happening in her current relationship, and it almost reads like the story of her with the Gardners is one she has trouble telling because her feelings about that time are complicated and she still has trouble figuring it all out. She gets easily distracted and the entire novel reads like someone with ADHD trying to avoid telling the whole story. 
But it is in such a beautiful package. History of Wolves is written in such a poetic way, that there are many times when I did not even care about the story anymore. I just wanted to read more sentences.  I caught myself reading paragraphs and pages over and over. There were a few times when I backtracked ten to twenty pages to read everything again. For as much as I enjoyed reading the passages, the actual story was just kind of mediocre to me. Maybe I was waiting for something bigger to happen that never happened. Maybe because the ending was a little abstract and confusing. Or maybe because we never get a real sense of Linda as a person because she is something of an unreliable narrator. Any angle I look at it, I can say that if I enjoyed the writing but I did not enjoy the book that much. It is a beautiful piece of furniture that really isn’t very comfortable to sit on.

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