The History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

This is an odd book, good in parts but somehow not quite rounded or complete enough. The narrator Linda / Mattie / Madeleine has multiple names and narrates as a child, a teenager and an adult so her personality is elusive. That’s subtly done. She is a troubled teenager, the child of a broken commune born to parents who cannot get much together. She struggles socially at school and is something of a social failure and then becomes a babysitter to a couple with a young child who are revealed as increasingly weird without giving too much away. There’s a sub-plot about one of the teachers which like a lot of stuff is just left hanging. The evocation of backwoods Minnesota is good although there is rather too much trudging through woods, cold or sweaty depending on the season, and quite a lot of muck and dirt of various kinds while messing about in canoes. The story once you get the bit about Christian Science is predictable and the unfolding is grim. It leaves the narrator messed up as an adult out of place in her own hick town and generally lost and then it kind of… just stops.

I like the way the characters unfold in the way the story is told and even if you wouldn’t want to live in a swamp catching walleyes, the area is brought to life by the description. There’s too many odd similes and sometimes the walking around gets repetitious but these are quibbles. The book reminded me a bit of last year’s shortlisted Eileen by Otta Moshfegh also set in small town America with a drifting female lead. It’s good but I don’t think it should win the Booker. Lastly, it made me go and look up Mary Eddy and Christian Science. Americans have always followed the odd nutter it seems so maybe Donald Trump is just the latest manifestation!

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