Likely Stories: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Jan 11, 2018

Ethereal story of a young loner, a woman alone in a cabin with her son, and an absent father.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Emily Fridlund debuted her first novel in September of 2017.  History of Wolves was immediately recognized by the Booker Prize Committee with a position on the 2017 shortlist.  She currently lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

This ethereal story is about Linda, a young girl of 15 who is a loner in her high school.  No one bothers her, and she keeps to herself.  Another young girl, Lily is popular, has a boyfriend, but some rumors have ruined her reputation.  Linda becomes curious about Lily, and she follows her around campus, but she never opens herself up to Lily, in fact she rarely has a word of conversation until the end of the novel.  When Lily disappears, Linda goes to her house and asks about her.  Other characters include Mr. Grierson, a new history teacher at the school, and Patra, a woman living in a remote cabin with her son, Paul.  Patra’s husband, Leo is, she says, an “astronomer” away from home while he does his starry thing.  Paul anxiously awaits his father’s return.

Linda is a free spirit, and she seems to wander around as she will.  Her parents trust her, and they do not pry into her life or whereabouts.  She is also the narrator.  In her wanderings, Linda visits a nearby cabin and meets Paul, then his mother, and they go for a walk.  Linda becomes Paul’s nanny.  Fridlund writes, “In April, I started taking Paul for walks in the woods while his mother revised a manuscript of her husband’s research.  The printed pages lay in batches around the cabin, on the countertop and under chairs.  There were also stacks of books and pamphlets.  I’d peeked at the titles.  Predictions and Promises: Extraterrestrial Bodies.  Science and Health with a Key to the Scriptures.  The Necessities of Space. // ‘Just keep clear of the house for a few hours’ were Patra’s instructions.  I was given snacks in Baggies, pretzels wound into small brown bows.  I was given water bottles in a blue backpack, books about trains, Handi Wipes, coloring books and crayons, suntan lotion.  These went on my back.  Paul went in my hand.  His little fingers were damp and wiggling.  But he was trusting, never once seeming to feel the shock of my skin touching his” (40).  There are some peculiar clues here.  It turns out that none of these characters are what they seem.  It is not exactly a mystery, but is interesting.

I found the story absorbing, and while the ending was not a surprise, the way the story ended left me mystified.  As I chased after the end of the novel, I expected a certain outcome, but it never came.  I sensed a touch of a Scandinavian writer.  Ironically, I have been reading a lot of literature from the north lands lately.  It has that sparse, serious tone.  Linda, for example, lives largely in her mind, and her conversations with Paul are interesting.  Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves is a story with much to recommend it.  I was really only slightly annoyed as I closed the book.  4-1/2 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!