There’s a lot going on in Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves, but at its heart the novel explores culpability and guilt. The first page of the novel explains that our protagonist, Linda, held and hugged a boy, Paul, who died. What follows is how Paul died, and more significantly, why he died (as his death, we learn, was far from inevitable). Continue reading
Tag Archives: literary fiction
History of Wolves: Booker Prize shortlist meet Minnesota winter; or, what to read on your holiday break
Melissa Banks’ A Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing is a novel about a young woman figuring out what she does and does not value about herself, and about her self-in-relationships. It’s a novel that makes the case for ‘being yourself,’ and ‘having experiences,’ and ‘dancing in the rain.’ That’s not fair of me, it’s not that pat – our protagonist Jane Rosenal has nuance and develops. There are touching scenes that left me feeling things (in particular the scenes with her father). I did, however, feel like it was a book trying very hard to be Serious, and Important, and Moving.
If nothing else there’s this one line that will stick with me for a good long time: “Too late, you realize that your body was perfect – every healthy body is” (218). (this from a chapter with second person narration – didn’t I say it was Deliberately Literary?) I know that the sentence privileges ‘healthy bodies’ (and the attendant ideas that go along with ‘health’ and ‘healthy.’) But as someone who complicated feelings about perfect bodies, it was a sharp sentence (amid a chapter about breast cancer no less) that reminded me – and all the 20 somethings the book is aimed at – that the epic struggle to find the perfect body is not Odyssian, but rather Sisyphean. So sure, we’d all be better off recognizing the perfection that is our body when all of its parts are working the way they’re supposed to and/or without pain. And yes, it’s a sentence I’d like to internalize by way of the story that accompanies it. The story tries to get there, tries to show that acceptance of self is the real route to perfect happiness. The only trouble is that for the protagonist here, that real self is one of utter privilege (in all categories) and so acceptance is about accepting yourself as the normative ideal (what’s the hierarchy of self-acceptance?)
All this to say I’m not urging you to go read this one. I think you’d be better off reading Anne of Green Gables. But I would say if you’re a 20 something, or you’re looking for a book for a 20 something, you could do worse than this one.
Side note: I did not realize the book was understood by some to be a collection of linked short stories (aren’t they all?). I obviously would not have read it if that had been the case (see: my long standing and utterly unjustified hatred for short fiction). I don’t think it is, but worth pointing out that Amazon will confuse the genre for you.
I don’t have much to say about Louis Bayard’s The Pale Blue Eye. I enjoyed reading it? It was captivating (if entirely forgettable)? The novel is set in the 19th century (hooray), is a murder mystery (fun) and includes a fictionalized Edgar Allen Poe (what fun). We follow our protagonist retired police detective as he sets about trying to solve the murder and dismemberment of an army cadet. Poe is recruited to help him in his efforts. Layers of mystery and some romance.
My little description makes it sound like the book is trashy or easy. It’s not! It has a remarkable ending, sets up a complex and compelling relationship between the detective and Poe. I just don’t have much more to say than that.
I’d take it to the beach and read it. Maybe. No, what I think it’s best for is a book-on-tape long car ride. Captivating for plot, tone and setting. Take that to your audio-book source of choice and enjoy!