“History of Wolves”, a novel by Emily Fridlund, is a dark, suspenseful coming-of-age novel. Fifteen-year-old Madeline, who introduces herself as Linda, lives on an abandoned commune in the Minnesota woods with people who might be her parents or who might just be the people who stayed when everyone else left. She is strange, self-sufficient, defiant, inquisitive.
Linda’s story begins with the arrival of a new history teacher, Mr. Grierson, who Linda tries awkwardly to seduce. With all the feelings of unrequited lust and not-belonging, Linda meets the new people across the lake: young mother Patra and her four-year-old son Paul.
The storyline of Mr. Grierson and the beautiful Lily (another student) will play out in fragments alongside the bigger story of Paul’s death. We learn very early on that Paul has died, but Fridlund takes her time revealing how and why. We see Linda become immersed in this life with Patra and Paul, with their snacks and walks in the woods and bedtime rituals.
In the deep Minnesota woods, it feels like a fairytale. And then Patra’s strange scientist husband shows up and like with every fairytale witch, that’s when the story begins to unravel. The reader starts to put clues together before Linda does, but eventually she gets it. It is what she does and doesn’t do that haunts her well into her adult life.
The two plots converge on a few central questions: How much do you have to know to be culpable? What is justice? Is a lie of omission the same as a lie? Who gets to decide who is forgiven and when?
I like novels that don’t wrap up with neat answers, and so I appreciated that the adult Linda we meet is still wrestling with all the questions that summer brought forth.