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History of Wolves

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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

288 pages, Hardcover

First published January 3, 2017

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About the author

Emily Fridlund

4 books474 followers
Emily Fridlund grew up in Minnesota and currently resides in the Finger Lakes region of New York.

Her fiction has appeared in a variety of journals, including Boston Review, Five Chapters, New Orleans Review, New Delta Review, Chariton Review, The Portland Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly.

She holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. Fridlund's collection of stories, Catapult, was a finalist for the Noemi Book Award for Fiction and the Tartts First Fiction Award. It won the Mary McCarthy Prize and will be published by Sarabande in 2017. The opening chapter of History of Wolves was published in Southwest Review and won the 2013 McGinnis-Ritchie Award for Fiction.

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5 stars
3,638 (13%)
4 stars
9,449 (34%)
3 stars
9,789 (35%)
2 stars
3,495 (12%)
1 star
1,025 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,576 reviews
Profile Image for Adina ( On hiatus until next week) .
827 reviews3,230 followers
August 20, 2019
It seems I am against the tide with this year Booker Longlist. Most of the The Mookse and the Gripes group members tend to place this novel as their least favorite. I, on the other hand, liked it and disliked highly appreciated novels such as Lincoln in The Bardo.

Now that we established that I have a twisted taste I will try to tell you why I enjoyed History of Wolves. Well, it wasn’t because of the Wolves as there is no physical presence of the animals in the pages of this novel. The MC is obsessed with them but otherwise, I am still trying to understand why it is named so.

The story is told from Madeline’s (Linda or Mattie) point of view who lives in an ex-commune in the woods in Northern Minnesota, where only her parents were left. She is socially awkward, understandable, taking in consideration her upbringing. Her life changes when the Gardner family moves in the new house in the woods. She is immediately drawn by the 4 year old Paul and her mother. She soon becomes their baby sitter and the experience will change her life.

The novel jumps forward and back in time, sometimes sloppily, as other complained, but most of the time the plot device succeeds to maintain tension. You see, we learn from the start that Paul dies in peculiar circumstances. We do not exactly what happens until the end. The reveal had an important impact on me as I feel strongly about this subject. I am not going to tell you what the main theme is as I believe you should discover it as you read.

The novel touches a number of delicate themes that, at least on the surface, have nothing to do with each other. I can understand the other reviewers’ complains about the lack of a single coherent plot, the idea that she tries to say too much in a few pages. I thought the same way but the ending put things together nicely in a major argument. It deals mainly with action and inaction. Are we just as guilty if we do not do something, if we only think about it, if we do not act on our instincts and desires? Are we responsible for our thoughts and our inaction? Interesting thought material.

The setting plays an important part in the construction of the novel. The author spends a lot of time painting the image of the rough but beautiful forests of North Minessota. I do not know if I was attracted by the natural environment because I was travelling through Norway at the time and I could see several common elements with what was in front of my eyes but I enjoyed the descriptions.

The language resembled the place in many ways, it was crisp, direct and beautiful. I loved the straightforward way Linda was expressing her views.

Below are the links for two interesting interviews with the author that you might want to check after you read this novel. Beware, it contains spoilers.



Trivia: She was giving birth to her first child when she found out she was longlisted for the Booker Prize. What an amazing and rewarding day it must have been for her.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,005 reviews36k followers
September 28, 2016
"History of Wolves" is an exquisitely nuanced novel that tenderly and fiercely
examines one of the abiding truths of the human condition....'the quest for *self* never ceases'!
With little parent supervision, 14 year old Linda is left to grow up like a weed in Northern Minnesota. A typical afternoon for Linda, after - perhaps completing a Life Science exam in school would be to take off walking out of town - but first stop to buy licorice and cigarettes- smoke two in a row - stroll through milkweed along a highway- watching bees and monarchs....paying attention to everything in her environment. If she saw pelicans floating overhead....she could feel exhilarated.
Linda observes everything-- teachers, students, parents, kids, animals, ( especially dogs), clothes, shoes, smells, temperatures, beauty, shapes, sounds, and touch.
She was particularly observant and obsessed about a schoolmate named Lily.
Linda not only watches her closely-- one day she went to great lengths to follow her.
Like a stalker....she followed Lily to the High School, through the empty halls, down a dark staircase, past the gym door, passed a trophy case. Lily was being quiet...but Linda was being more quiet as not to be seen.
Linda knew so much about Lily whom she 'wasn't' friends with. She knew that Lily's mother had died in a car accident when she was 12 years old. She knew that her father dropped her off every morning in front of the baseball field. Linda knew that Lily went to see a special teacher during homeroom for dyslexic. She knew that her boyfriend had broken up with her a few days before Prom.
Linda also knew of the story being spread that their teacher, Mr. Grierson, had taken her to the lake and kissed her.

Mr. Grierson, recently came to the school from California , replacing another teacher. He's accused of being a child pornographer....yet, we are hardly aware of the 'layers' of where this journey takes us.

In the meantime, for $10 a day, Linda babysits a little boy named Paul from 3-5pm every day after school. With Paul she might sit with him by the lake on warm wood and watch ducks arrive in droves, watching geese skid into the lake and snake black necks beneath the surface. Linda was great with Paul and you saw his own imagination grow while being outside in nature.

Linda's was only 6 or 7 years old when her own mother started calling her CEO. --creating a distance - separateness at a very young age. Her mother wanted her 'alone' time when she cooked and cleaned.....saying Linda was too slow and too judge mental--( always watching closely for mistakes) "CEO CHILD"....
----My own mother never called me a CEO child, but she often said, "You do your thing, and I'll do mine". I was familiar with these detached mothering styles that Linda experienced.
Things were different with Linda's father. Linda had two chores to do with him: chop wood and clean fish. They did it together until she was in High School. Their relationship feeling a little closer.

Coming of Age....poignant & poetic....
Linda's voice is fresh -- she keeps our mind turning until the very end.
Beautiful and Brutal, this is a book I both admire and devoured. A strong 5 stars for this debut novel.

Thank You Grove Atlantic, Netgalley, and Emily Fridlund
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,741 reviews2,267 followers
August 12, 2022

“Winter collapsed on us that year. It knelt down, exhausted, and stayed. In the middle of December so much snow fell that the gym roof buckled, and school was cancelled for a week.”

Emily Fridlund’s debut novel is a moving story of a young girl who lives on the land of a former commune-type community. Her parents are relics from years gone by, late to the hippie party. Living off the land, they live in a shack, really. She’s young, a teenager, her given name is Madeline, but she goes by Linda.

No one’s lived across the lake from where Madeline lives with her parents, until her second year in High School, when Patra and Paul Gardner start appearing after a house is built. Husband / father Leo is busy with work elsewhere, but in the meantime his wife, Patra (short for Cleopatra) and four-year-old son Paul move into the house across the lake. It isn’t long before Linda is spending time taking care of young Paul. A bond grows, Paul trusts her, and she “gets” Paul.

At school, there’s the new History teacher, Mr. Grierson, and another student, Lily, who take center stage. Mr. Grierson tries to revise the focus from what the former History teacher, Mr. Adler, whose focus was on Russian Tsars. Mr. Grierson would prefer something a little more “local” and “recent.” With this in mind, Grierson sets up a “History Odyssey” tournament of sorts, with judges and prizes. Mattie, as Grierson calls her, decides to do her speech on the History of Wolves.

There’s a peculiarity to this novel that avoids classification with words. Partly in the setting, partly in the atmosphere of the home(s), but it’s also in the people. The people involved all seem to be slightly detached from their present, but it goes further than being attributed to their geographically remote lives. On some levels, they seem ordinary, although they’re not particularly likeable, but they’re interesting in their weirdness and their detachment.

This is a book you can’t become complacent about while reading. It doesn’t happen often, but there are moments when suddenly you find yourself in another time and place, and Madeline / Linda / Mattie is taking you to another point in her life, allowing the story to build slowly, adding other elements into the equation, another perspective on how she got to be a girl so far from home, from herself.

The writing is lovely, the story disturbing, strange and a bit haunting. At some point you’ll think that you know what is going to happen, but most of where it goes you will see unfolding as the end comes racing up. The unraveling of the “mystery” is only one part of this book, and as it unravels you begin to see how the lies will tell ourselves and others may come back to haunt us.

Published: 3 Jan 2017

Many thanks to Grove Atlantic, NetGalley and to author Emily Fridlund for providing me with an ARC for reading and review.
Profile Image for Paula K .
420 reviews424 followers
April 10, 2019
Short-listed for the Booker prize in 2017, History of Wolves, is a beautifully written debut novel.

This coming of age story is set in the gorgeously described woods of Northern Minnesota. Seen from the eyes of 14 year old Madeline, a wonderful story emerges about the distinction of what people think and what people do and their consequences.

Madeline lives in the woods in the remains of an abandoned commune with her parents as the last survivors. She is pretty much left on her own. Other than chopping wood and cleaning fish with her father, she spends her time exploring nature and it’s inhabitants. At school Madeline is understandably socially inept. She is isolated and searching for some connection through a new teacher and a popular girl, Lily, that she follows secretly but isn’t a friend.

The Gardner family moves in across the lake and Madeline forms a bond with Petra and her young son Paul. She babysits Paul and gets to know the family. Secrets emerge. Beliefs and inaction put the young child in harms way and the consequences are explored in the end.

Other subplots are hinted at in Madeline’s story - obsession, child neglect, bullying, and child pornography, but only touched upon. I enjoyed the way the author wrapped up the plot and subplot in the end.

A beautifully written book.

5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Karen.
573 reviews1,116 followers
November 25, 2016
3.5 rounded up to 4 because of the writing.
15 year old Madeline(Linda) lives with her parents in the remains of an old commune, in the woods, in Northern Minnesota. Linda is by herself most of the time doing chores at home, poor household, and she seems socially inept with her classmates, etc
A family moves in across the lake, a mother, father,and young son which Linda ends up babysitting often. She comes to feel like a huge part of that family, and then a situation arises with the little boy that tears everything apart. This was heartbreaking!
The story goes back and forth between time periods, Linda as a grownup and Linda as a 15 year old.
I really don't believe this girl ever connected with anyone in her life like she did the young boy and his mother, and that made me so sad for her.
The writing is very good, but I was left wanting more of a conclusion to the story. It ended strangely for me.
Thank you to Atlantic Monthly Press, Emily Fridlund, and Netgalley!
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
703 reviews3,276 followers
May 3, 2018
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

An atmospheric coming-of-age with subtle tension and a plodding plot. Where Fridlund succeeds at transporting her audience to the chilled forest and snowy setting of History of Wolves, her wooden characters, whose actions lead to a limp reveal, leave something to be desired.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,336 followers
December 16, 2016
3+ stars. I'm really wavering in my reaction to History of Wolves -- things I liked, and things I didn't like so much. In the end, I think I felt that it had a few too many promising story strands that weren't complete or didn't quite come together. Linda aka Madeleine grows up in an old commune in northern Minnesota. She lives with two adults who have stayed on the property who may or may not be her parents. Her story moves back and forth in time, focusing on a few specific story lines -- things that happen between a teacher and another girl at school, neighbours who have an ill son and their issues Linda can't quite grasp, and her later years working a string of bad jobs hanging out with a roommate and a boyfriend. Some of the most interesting parts of the story seem too undeveloped or fragmented to be entirely satisfying --for example, Linda's parents and the commune backstory, and the story involving the neighbours. Other parts feel like superfluous clutter -- like the story involving her school mate and teacher, and her later years with the boyfriend and roommate. As I write this, I think I'm starting to understand the point. This is Linda's subjective view of what she saw, what she understood, what she chose to focus on and what mattered to her as a teenager and young adult, and the consequences of only partially seeing and understanding. It's well written. I liked Linda's relationship with the natural environment she lived in. I expect many readers will love the dreamy quality of the writing. For me, I kept vacillating, much as I have done in this review. Having said that, I would give Fridlund's next book a try. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
696 reviews1,073 followers
January 26, 2021
In a word, unsettling.

I normally hesitate before picking up the Booker nominees as I usually don’t ‘get’ them. However this premise looked interesting so I thought I’d try it and I am glad I did despite the tough subject matter.

The main focus is on Linda, 14 years old living in a cabin with her parents in the Minnesota woods. We get flashes of her in the future, but mainly the storyline revolves around her as a teen.

She is very isolated, she doesn’t seem to have friends, nor is she close to either of her parents. When a new family move into the cabin across the lake from her it’s easy to see how she becomes enveloped in their lifestyle.

Patra and her 4 year old son Paul have moved into the woods at the behest of her husband Leo. He thinks it will be good for them, the peace and quiet, solitude.

Linda spends a lot of time with Paul and grows close to Patra. However something happens that makes Linda question both Leo and Patra.

I won’t say much more because I think it’s important for the book to unravel as you go. I found it frightening the things that people believe and will or in some cases won’t do - for that belief.

I found it interesting how it linked to the lesser storyline - one of a teacher accused of pedophilia.

The writing really helped build the tension and you could feel the isolation of the setting.

The only part I didn’t understand was the very last page.

Overall a read with some tough themes that really make you think. 3.5 ⭐️
Profile Image for Linda.
1,227 reviews1,276 followers
February 26, 2017
Over the river and through the woods.....

And through the woods and back again and again.

History of Wolves is told through the perspective of fourteen year old Linda whose day-by-day trek through those woods reveals a very somber spirit. Her home is in an abandoned commune along the lake in northern Minnesota. We meet a dejected young girl who tries to make a connection with her outer world. Her parents (an uncertainty if they really are), her fellow students, one questionable teacher, and a young couple that she provides child care for are the cogs turning in this wheel for Linda.

Because of her background and living conditions, Linda doesn't quite react well to social cues. She appears to have been on her own much of the time from an early age. Her interactions with others have been limited by choice and by situation. She is met with name calling and indifference at school except for the new teacher who encourages her in a special project. Linda follows Lily, the school beauty, and wishes to walk the steps of her life.

But it is her deep love for nature and her surroundings that allows her to relate so readily with Paul, the young boy that she babysits. Together, they participate in games and daily walks through those woods. When a serious situation develops with Paul, Linda trembles with hesitation and, consequently, is left with inertia. It will haunt her and stunt her spiritual mindset from that day forward.

History of Wolves is beautifully written by Emily Fridlund. However, it suffers from repetitive venturing into the same weeds along this shore and in finite detail. The storyline, unfortunately, is bogged down by far too many unnecessary layers. And these layers go off in many a direction. Yes, I get it. This story is seen through the eyes of young Linda and what teenager doesn't go off into a tangent. However, the weight of the story and its subject matter is not served by such a technique.

I am impressed with the writing of Emily Fridlund. I look forward to her next offering. Perhaps you will experience something completely different with this one than I did. The writing is worth the price of admission.
Profile Image for Elaine.
1,554 reviews1 follower
December 15, 2021
The second hyped book of 2017 is The History of Wolves which touches on many random topics including family, pedophilia, loyalty, love and faith.

Yet none of these hard hitting themes fully resonated with me.

The narrator is 37 year old Madeline who remembers a pivotal moment in her life when she was 14. Her memories meander and continually bounce from topic to topic, from time period to time period.

She recalls a teacher being arrested on child pornography charges; the time she spent with a family who moved to the opposite side of her family cabin; the sudden death of their young son, Paul, who she began babysitting that summer; how she wrote to the pervert teacher years later to say how she believed in his innocence; the stark and harsh beauty of the Minnesota woods and landscape; the trial she attended as a witness for the prosecution after Paul's death...

You see what I mean?

That's the gist of the book.

Random topics are left unresolved and barely touched upon and the reader is left wondering, "What's the point of that?"

And the point is that as I kept reading, I cared less and less.

1. I certainly didn't give a flying f**k about a pedophile.

Here's a tip for all authors, don't write about pedos expecting to garner sympathy from readers because it won't happen.

2. I didn't like anyone in the book, including Madeline or Linda or whatever her name was.

She was apathetic and indifferent to almost everything, and even when she took some kind of action it felt contrived, like when she went to the drugstore to get aspirin for Paul, not because she cared about him but because she felt she had to do it since his wack job parents weren't going to do it.

I never felt she cared for anyone, not for Paul, not her parents and definitely not for herself. She wasn't heartless, but passive, similar to...

3. Patra, the mousy, compliant wife who succumbs to her husband's Christian Scientist beliefs, which leads to the death of their son and the ensuing trial for negligent homicide.

How did I know Madeline's involvement with Paul and Patra was suspicious? When she tells Madeline that she and Paul came to Minnesota while her husband stayed in Hawaii for work.

Seriously, who picks Minnesota over Hawaii!?!

4. All the men in her life at this time are no role models and lay the foundation for her future relationships; a pedophile teacher, Patra's freaky husband whose behavior and personality borders on obsessive and dominant, Lily's aloof and drunk father...look, not one of us are saints but is it so hard to find a decent person in this backwoods town?

5. The characters weren't quirky, interesting or intelligent.

I did enjoy the descriptions of the Minnesota woods but it wasn't enough to add an extra star to this review.
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
October 14, 2019
fulfilling my 2019 goal to read (at least) one book each month that i bought in hardcover and put off reading long enough that it is now in paperback.

sometimes a book will surprise you. usually, that statement is a one-way street: i didn’t think i would like_____(title) because i don’t usually like_____(genre/theme) or _____(noun), but BOY was i surprised!

but this time it’s the inverse—the cover, synopsis, and all the reviews i've read during the howevermany years i've had this book on my shelf have all been waving neon banners and chanting my name, promising me it was gonna be a verykaren book.

and then i read it and i was like ‘huh.’ not "huh?," which would have been preferable, but 'huh.'

i guess this is why no one ever asks me to be a judge on the booker panel.

actually, upon 43 seconds of reflection, maybe this is a "huh?" after all. because i do not understand the glowing praise and accolades.

it deserves praise for the prose—her writing is quite lovely, especially in the nature descriptions; it paints a strong atmosphere of isolation and loneliness and beauty against which our narrator linda comes of age.

but as far as character and story, it was moosh to me.

i don't mind a little ambiguity in my fiction—i'm happy to do some of the work myself, as long as i'm given enough context clues to do so. but i struggled with linda as a character. whether or not i "like" a character is irrelevant, but i do need to understand them, and linda is so slippery and inconsistent, it's hard to interpret her motivations.

she's had an unusual upbringing; raised in a commune in the isolated backwoods of northern minnesota that turned sour and disbanded, leaving her behind in the care of a couple who may or may not be her birth parents. for the meat of this story, she's fourteen years old, poorly supervised and lonely, and her low social intelligence, coupled with the unkindness of teenagers and their bullying, makes it difficult for her to make friends. she fumbles throughout the book to establish connections; prone to grand gestures and inappropriate sexual advances, always retreating to the safety of solitude.

when a young mother named patra and her four-year-old son paul move in to the house across the lake, linda ingratiates herself into the family, a babysitter to paul, a friend to patra to help keep her loneliness at bay while she awaits the arrival of her professor husband. linda's relationship with patra becomes obsessive/possessive; nearly predatory, but she (mostly) seems to enjoy paul's company. patra is a bit flighty and fragile, and when her husband eventually arrives on the scene, things start to go downhill quickly, culminating in paul's death, which readers have known about since the second page, waiting only to hear the 'how' of it, and what linda's role was in the situation.

even with the benefit of first-person narration, linda's personality remains opaque and walled-off, and her actions are frequently inconsistent. she's hard to pin down or predict, which is really frustrating for a reader.

as for the story, there are several prominent events and conflicts, but many of them are treated shallowly, and despite there being a number of narrative threads that loop and recur, they don't necessarily cohere, and they just end up...dangling. there's child abuse and neglect, teen pregnancy, pedophilia, christian scientists, the commune, the events of the trial—puzzle pieces that seem like they should at some point interlock, but never quite come together.

linda's memories from her early childhood in the commune are only briefly surfaced, and much more could have been done with that to explain linda as a character. she's such a blank hole, psychologically, and since this is primarily a character study, in first freaking person, that's maddening.

the story is told from adult-linda's perspective at thirty-seven, and the decisions she makes in her adult life are just as perplexing as those during her formative years. i suppose we're meant to infer that she's still paralyzed; emotionally stunted from the psychological trauma of paul's death, or that it's some kind of guilty self-punishment to avoid personal attachments, but linda was an odd little duck even before she met patra and paul; demonstrating creepy stalkery behaviors towards one of her classmates and trusting her teacher more after he was arrested for child pornography and inappropriate sexual conduct with the object of linda's creepy stalking.

the main takeaway is a haunting and pretty bleak emotional mosaic of events in the life of someone who was only ever on the fringes of the human experience; who can't seem to decide whether she wants to belong or not. she states, I remembered children from the playground where I’d watched them when I was growing up. Plus, I’d read some books with children in them., which is inexpressibly pitiable, but, when selected to give a presentation for a history odyssey tournament, she chooses wolves as her topic and, when asked by one of the judges, "What do wolves have to do with human history?" replies "Wolves have nothing at all to do with humans, actually. If they can help it, they avoid them." it's hard to tell what linda wants—she makes timid advances into human connection and when she isn't rebuffed, she self-sabotages and is alone again. there's no sense of character growth and too many empty spaces to fill in.

to me, the novel as a whole was messy and underdeveloped, despite some beautiful writing. i didn't hate it, but i can't say i enjoyed it much, either, although i loved the surprise lurking under the dust jacket:

i give it three, but it is a low three, and i am sad i didn't love it.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Jenna 🧵.
224 reviews77 followers
August 20, 2017
The moment I finished this book, I rushed back to the library to return it so that another of my fellow Denizens of the Eternal Waitlist could have a chance to read it ASAP. Northern Virginia Readers: You’re Welcome.

As many others have described, this is not a perfect book; it ambitiously tackles a number of weighty themes and integrates various plotlines and time jumps within a relatively modest page count. So, I cannot protest too much other readers’ objections that the book occasionally meanders in a way that some may find difficult to track, and that some plotlines and characters could perhaps be whittled down a bit. But for me, this book’s perhaps occasional meanderings still made sense, in the way that a walk in the woods makes sense. The book powerfully – and with beautifully skilled writing that reviews have also consistently noted – explores themes including, but certainly not limited to, the idea of “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” the inevitable and often brutal cycles of nature in which humans also participate.

No longer having the book on hand, I can’t quote exactly, but at one point in the novel, protagonist Linda, who lives in rusticity and poverty in rural Northern Minnesota, reflects that outsiders often marvel that isn’t she scared to live so deeply within the isolated severity of the often dark and frozen woods? No she isn’t, Linda muses, because, and I’m paraphrasing here, the woods are predictable in a way that the human world isn’t. The threats and gifts, the danger and beauty they offer, are cyclical and knowable; one may prepare through observation and thus survive. The rules are constant, unchanging, in stark contrast to the unpredictable violence that humans may inflict upon one another, as demonstrated by a number of the book’s subplots, most notably the story of the city folk neighbors with whom Linda becomes acquainted, the Gardners, an invasive species that encroaches upon the lake in the woods and upsets its, and Linda’s, balance.

Through the story of the Gardners, author Fridlund explores an idea that Linda considers more prosaically in the book as “the difference between what people think and what they do” – that is, the hostility that can result and the havoc that can be wrought when humans adopt and blindly follow an ideology (follow an UNnatural human-created set of laws as though it IS nature) to its most extreme ends. Again, the book contains various examples of people doing this, but the most notable examples result in a phenomenon that doesn’t really have an equivalent in nature: neglect, specifically, child neglect, or neglect of a vulnerable life for which one is responsible - and including failure through neglect to protect children from both the ideas and intentions of man and the laws of nature alike.

Both Linda, as the left-behind relic of her hippie parental surrogates’ commune experiment, and young Paul Gardner, who becomes Linda’s babysitting charge and whose parents strictly adhere to their own set of ideals by which he is significantly affected, are survivors/victims of profound neglect whose childhood stories unfold in a parallel way throughout the book. For me, this book’s major accomplishment, and an endeavor in which its grand ambition is fully borne out, is its exploration of childhood neglect, the coping skills and repercussions it engenders, and how these consequences extend through generations and impact the lives of others.

For me, a marvelous and highly original exploration of an important theme, gorgeously written, beautifully observed, with lush and fluid yet meticulous descriptions of setting and character. I do hope others appreciate this book as much as I did, and I cannot wait to see what treasures this author may offer us in the future.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
February 12, 2017
3.5 rounded up.

This is a haunting story of a young woman recalling events and circumstances in her life when she was 14. Madeline/Maddie/Linda is raised in a commune and living in the deserted remains of it in a cabin in northern Minnesota . She lives with her parents (and she's not even sure they are her parents), but what is clear is that Linda is an outsider. She's called freak at school and doesn't seem to connect with anyone or anything except the nature around her and much later we learn the only real human connection she had was with a little girl who was in the commune when she was much younger. So it is not a surprise that she jumps at the chance to be part of something that seems normal at first, a family who moves in across the lake . Telling us her story as an adult, the narrative moved around in time, but mostly it's about what happens when she's 14 . There was a sadness about her from the beginning and she seems aware even as a teenager of how the circumstances of her life have shaped her, but it wasn't until towards the end that I realized that even as an adult, what happened in the past will always impact who she is .

There are several threads and I had trouble trying to understand how they were related but in the end the connection of these threads - the teacher and Lily , the family whose religious views bring devastating consequences for their little boy, and Linda's upbringing all reflect what I saw as central to the novel - Linda's loneliness and her desire to have some normalcy in her life, to be cared about, to be recognized for herself. But throughout she remains on the sidelines observing , wanting to be included, wanting to be loved . I'm not sure if I had to explain the ending that I could do that . But what I am sure of is that this is a well written, thought provoking story and I will watch for other books by this debut author.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Grove Atlantic through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews906 followers
August 10, 2018
I have such mixed feelings about this book! The writing is very good, but at the same time the narration is very detached and meandering. I don't understand the ending at all.

I appreciate the craftsmanship but it did not resonate with me.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,135 reviews8,141 followers
July 30, 2017
"Maybe if I'd been someone else I'd see it differently. But isn't that the crux of the problem? Wouldn't we all act differently if we were someone else?"

Coming of ages novels, especially ones not aimed at young adult readers, can be a tricky business. Too much time spent on the character's age and youthful struggles and you risk losing the reader and the plot; but not enough time focused on that incredibly challenging period of life when you're coming into your own and learning to see the world in new and often bleak and pessimistic ways, and the thread of the novel comes undone. I think Emily Fridlund handles that balance incredibly well in History of Wolves.

I'm hesitant to say anything about the plot of this novel because I went into it with virtually no knowledge of the story and enjoyed the process of discovery. But at a basic level it's about guilt and innocence, when to speak up about something and when to stay silent, and the penance people often feel they must perform to atone for past actions. Essentially it's about how our lives and all the events in our lives stay with us, sometimes even haunt us, but also give us something to continue living for—it's up to us to figure out how to move forward with the weight of those experiences on our backs.

This is the kind of book I'm so happy gets recognition from awards like the Man Booker Prize because I might not have otherwise heard about it or maybe not have been as compelled to pick it up. Instead, I was able to spend a Saturday lost in another story that I'm sure will stick with me for some time. 4.5 stars
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,118 reviews3,964 followers
May 25, 2022
In The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood wrote:
All stories are about wolves… Anything else is sentimental drivel.
This novel is certainly not sentimental drivel, and actual wolves aren’t really relevant. But metaphorical ones lurk in the margins.

Image: A wolf emerging from the shadows of a wood (Source)

This is a story rooted in nature, beside a forested lake on the edge of a small town in northern Minnesota, “Land of 10,000 Lakes”.
We watched a storm blow ice in monstrous crusts off the limbs of trees… slow-motion sense of catastrophe.

The timeline washes back and forth, like waves. Linda is remembering a defining series of events when she was 14 and 15. An only child, living with her (presumed) parents but left to her own devices, in what remains of the dilapidated commune everyone else left when she was six or seven. She’s not pretty, has no friends (not even imaginary ones via books), is not very good at school, and doesn't really have any aspirations. When the Gardners move into a property on the other side of the lake, she is fascinated from afar.

Linda slips into their lives while husband Leo is doing astronomy research in Hawaii. Paul, aged four, is precocious, imaginative, and rather babyish. His mother, Patra (short for Cleopatra), is very educational in her conversation with him. There's the unspoken possibility of something like Asperger’s. Linda becomes a frequent daytime babysitter, taking Paul on nature walks and out in her canoe. Their growing understanding of and need for each other is portrayed touchingly and believably.

But there is a subtly unsettling atmosphere and a detached intimacy in all the other relationships. It’s not as strange as Twin Peaks, but that came to mind. The Gardner family dynamics change again when Leo returns, but are still off.

The second page mentions that Paul will die.

Science and health

The title page has a quote from Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures - the cornerstone of Christian Science. Paul says:
There is no spot where God is not.” and “I am a perfect child of God.

It’s a faith I knew almost nothing about, beyond the strong preference for prayer, rather than invasive medical treatment or surgery. This novel taught me a little more. A couple of interesting questions are key to the message of the book:

• “What’s the difference between what you want to believe and what you do?”
• “What’s the difference between what you think and what you end up doing?”

I don't agree with these and the second seems a false belief under the guise of warning about false beliefs:

• “It’s not what you do but what you think that matters.”
• “Heaven and hell are ways of thinking. Death is just the false belief that anything could ever end.”

Seeing, but not understanding

Thus, from the start, I assumed this was primarily about something happening to Paul, leading to debates and decisions about interventions. It is about that, but just as Linda’s naivety means she misses as much as she sees, I fell for Fridlund’s misdirection for many pages.

It was hard to explain how ingrained a habit it was to pretend I understood what was happening in other people’s lives… How I took in information differently.

Two, arguably three, apparently minor and unrelated people and threads are what makes this book more about Linda’s needs than Paul’s, although it’s only towards the end that becomes clear. Linda, who “barely recognized the feeling” of happiness. Linda, who, someone suggests, might forgive others because she wants leniency for herself. Very cleverly done.

Image: “Fisk”, by Erik Johansson: small island on the back of a giant, unseen, fish (Source)


At the sentence level (see quotes, below), this is mostly 5*, and I enjoyed the gently unsettling situation. But I never quite connected with Linda, her adult life was dull, predictable, and filled too many pages for little benefit. Also, discussion of MBE’s philosophy, which increases towards the end but is never huge, rather turned me off.


There are aspects that one might expect to have more significance than seemed to be the case. I like ambiguity, and scope for interpretation, but I may have missed some deeper significance. For example (a couple of very minor spoilers are implied below, but the book is full of foreshadowing, often explicit):

• There are two sections, titled “Science” and “Health”. I now understand the importance of those two words to Christian Scientists, but there seemed little difference between the themes of the two sections.

• “History of wolves” was the title of Linda’s history project, and was occasionally mentioned thereafter. It’s what links her to Mr Grierson and thus to Lily, but is there more to it?

• The court verdict was stated, but not assessed. That’s for the reader to decide, thankfully.

• Linda goes from 14 to 15 with no birthday noted. But she’s a loner, who has little interaction even with her parents.

• A few times, Linda toys with the idea of 11 being a significant number, especially for age gaps: Paul is 4, she is 15, Patra is 26, and Leo 37. She also acknowledges, “It’s easy to make a pattern if you fudge it”. But when she imagines alternative pasts and futures, she pictures them at those ages. At the time of telling the story she’s reached, or possibly passed, 37.

• Linda is not a usual diminutive of Madeleine, so how did it come about?

• The only memories Linda has of the commune days concern her slightly older friend, Tameka.

• When a cat goes missing, is it a literary dead cat?

Image: A lake in Minnesota (Source)


Most of these could be plucked from a poem, or reconfigured into one. In particular, Fridlund blends nature analogies and human situations:

• “She only told me because I had no one to tell. It was like dropping a secret into a snow bank.”

• “Winter collapsed on us that year. It knelt down exhausted, and stayed.”

• “A space had been cleared around her - like a forest after a fire.” [after a scandal]

• “Her lips were pink as earthworms under rocks.”

• “Last night’s rain gave the sunny woods a squinty newborn look. It seemed fizzed, fermented - everything shimmering and throwing lights.”

Others quotes

• “The buds were still as hard as arrow tips on the trees, we could smell the syrupy resins from the pines. We could smell the rot of leaves beneath clumps of snow in the ravines.”

• “Pretty enough to be a cheerleader, but not smart enough to go to college.” [Linda’s 2017 definition of a Karen is rather different from what in means in 2022 USA]

• “On overcast nights… when twilight finally halved, and then halved again, sliding the sky through epochs of orange, then epochs of plue and purple. Then epochs of violet.”

• “The wet grass in the harbor was tentacled in shadows from the passing ships.”

• “The afternoons are so fat and long. You want to see if anything you do matters.”

• “The days gaped open… No school, no job, daylight going on and on like it would never quit.”

See also

Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding (see my review HERE) has a lonely rural teenage girl bemoaning the never-ending days of summer.

Ian McEwan’s The Children Act (see my review HERE) explores a similar dilemma in a rather different way.
Profile Image for Ruby Granger.
Author 2 books45.6k followers
July 19, 2018
This is, without a doubt, one of the best books which I have read. Fridlund has this beautifully ethereal tone of writing, one which skims across the surface of the Minnesotan lake, the empty branches of the woodland and Linda's own straw bed. This is the sort of book which needs to be read slowly, with intense appreciation of each image. Fridlund's similes are small revelations, accurate but, with the jarring comparisons, also slightly disconcerting, only enhancing the mist which surrounds Paul, the boy who lives in the house across the lake with his mother Patra. With narrative jumps in time, both reflective and current, a reader can see the intense impact which this family had on Linda (14/15), something which is both comforting but disturbing at the same time. A reader wonders why...

This should be a part of any list of Books to Read before your Die. I urge you to pick up a copy and trudge with Linda through the ice and snow of Minnesota.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,256 reviews49 followers
September 26, 2017
This was my final book from the Man Booker shortlist. It was actually a lot more interesting than I had been led to expect, and just about deserved a place on the longlist, but in view of the strength of some of the books that were omitted from the shortlist, I can't really back the decision to include it there, though at least Fridlund is a promising young writer who will benefit more than the likes of Auster and Saunders.

For me this book was quite strong on atmosphere - I felt she described the landscape of northern Minnesota very well. I liked the narrative voice, but felt that the narrative lacked focus at times and had too many jumps, and the parts about the narrator's adult life were dull and a little cliched. The basic story of an ill child being allowed to die by Christian Scientists who think their faith alone will heal him is a strong one but felt a bit tacked on to the story of the narrator Madeline/Maddie/Linda, a 15 year old girl whose parents were the last members of a failed hippie community and who is bored, lonely and isolated. The only wolves in the story are in the narrator's imagination and the ones she writes about in a school project.

Overall there was quite a lot to like, and Fridlund certainly has potential, but this book did not feel like the finished article.
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,562 followers
March 13, 2020
Wolves are both savage with their children and intuitively keep them close. They provide but also hunt. They are ruthless, carnivorous, cruel.

What strange places literature takes you to. In this case, the wild woods of Minnesota, where people are privy to fall for religions that dehumanize them.

Unique protagonist, she is complex, tragic, living like a scavenger, like a drifter... And she's only a teenager and her family used to live in a commune. Yup, its that kind of American tale.

But what a tale! & the way it's told! Outstanding, unmissable stuff.
Profile Image for Katie.
268 reviews334 followers
March 26, 2020
Emily Fridlund has created a fabulously complex and original character to narrate this novel. Linda is fourteen. Parental inadequacies have left her in a vortex of social and emotional dysfunctionalities. (An only child, she still lives in a home that was originally a hippy commune.) This makes her an unreliable and sometimes maddening narrator. It's not a novel for those who want to like the central characters. Linda at times is difficult to like. But isn't that true of most adolescent girls?! One example of her wrong-headed acts is when she encourages a teacher she suspects of being a prey to sexual desires for under-age girls. (It's without question the most sympathetic portrait of a paedophile I've ever read which, of course, is highly dangerous territory.) Her relationship with this teacher is a sub-plot of a novel and falls in nicely with one of the novel's central questions - "It's not what you do but what you think that matters." The main focus is on the family who move into a house across the lake. Linda is employed as a baby sitter. She develops a kind of crush on the young mother and feels a visceral hostility to the husband, an older man who is a Christian Scientist. When she first meets him she is holding an axe. It's a wonderfully creepy narrative. Early on, we discover there is to be a trial, a snippet of information Fridlund inserts into the text and then suspensefully lets hang for a long time. The complex character of Linda with all her shifting light and dark energies is so deftly created that even murder doesn't seem beyond her. It includes a very tender and moving depiction of an essentially good but utterly hapless father. And it's also a very beautifully written novel.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,433 reviews813 followers
March 3, 2017
4★ - overall
5★ for the writing and the main story.
(Read and reviewed February 12, 2017)

An intense debut from a talented writer. Madeline, who prefers ‘Linda’, is telling her story as an adult, with episodes from her childhood, her school years, her early adulthood and now. But it’s what happened to her at 15 that changes her life which is the excellent heart of the book. Her later years – with a boyfriend or tracking a classmate and former teacher – didn’t interest me. The teen Linda did.

Linda’s called ‘Freak’ at school. Her parents (or are they?) are all that’s left of a lakeside hippy commune in northern Minnesota; she wears “clothes made from other people’s clothes”; they are isolated, have no car and use an outhouse that is either freezing or full of flies.

Dad fishes and her mother looks busy by strewing projects around the cabin, sewing quilts, making jam to sell. Mother is disappointed with her student daughter who doesn’t rebel against school as she did. (Of course, if Linda actually did want to rebel, what better way?)

A problem with hippies, back in the day, was it was all do your own thing . . . as long as your 'thing' was cool. No bankers or stockbrokers need apply, thanks. No evening gowns and dinner suits acceptable. But I digress.

Linda knows and loves the woods and the lake, the wildlife, the canoe, better than her parents. But she hankers for what she reads about in the gossip magazines she’s scrounged from school. She works at the diner and meets the tourists. She knows there's life 'out there'. Anyone who’s ever worked in a seasonal tourist place will recognise the following.

“The out-of-towners had a thing about calling everybody by name, preserving some ritualized belief in small-town hospitality. They called Mr. Korhonen, the Finnish grocer who wore a crisp white shirt every day of his life, Ed. they called Santa Anna [an older waitress] at the diner, Annie, Anne. Sweetheart.

‘If it isn’t Jim’s girl,’ they said to me, ‘all grown up’. . . complete strangers said this to me, people I’d met maybe twice or three times – years ago, when I was a little kid – back when my dad picked up summer work as a guide. As if they weren’t interchangeable to me, like geese, like birds with their reliably duplicate markings. I marvelled that I could seem so particular and durable to them. So distinct.”

She wants to leave. The countless teens I’ve met mostly say there’s nothing to do 'here' (wherever 'here' is) and wish they were somewhere else where SOMETHING is HAPPENING. I figure teens arguing with parents and being discontent at home is nature’s way of getting them ready to move out and move on. Just a personal pet theory, and it may not be useful these days, since they can't afford to leave. But I digress again. :)

Linda knows most kids don’t have to walk for miles through the snow in the dark to get home if they miss the school bus. If you’ve read or seen Fargo, you will be familiar with the weather. One day, the kids were let out of school early, due to the wind chill factor.

“I made my way home from the bus stop at a rigid trot. I crunched along the snowpacked trail, felt the wind come off the lake in blasts, heard the pines groan and creak overhead. Halfway up the hill, my lungs started to feel raggedy. My face changed into something other than face, got rubbed out. When I finally got to the top of the hill, when I slowed down to brush the ice from my nose, I saw a puff of exhaust across our lake. I had to squint against all that white to make it out.”

It turns out to be the car of a summer family, back for a winter stay. Parents with a little boy. Linda begins watching them with binoculars from the roof of her dad’s shed. Thus begins the main story.

She makes friends and soon becomes little Paul’s babysitter. She’s intrigued by the fact that they are all 11 years apart in age: Paul is 4, she is 15, Patra is 26, Leo the dad is 37. And I noticed that she says she is writing this at 37, whether or not that has any significance. But she does like to connect the dots, literally and figuratively.

She plays with and entertains Paul for hours, getting to know Patra, and eventually Leo. They are a most peculiar pair of people, and their behaviour is strained and tense around her, with overtones or undertones of hysteria. She loves Paul and Patra, but is wary of Leo, an obsessive fellow who is a mild-mannered bully. And she enjoys earning money. Patra welcomes Linda whole-heartedly – after all, there’s only 11 years between them – but Leo is a particularly weird duck. You’ll see.

The book picks up more in the second half as we get an inkling of what’s going on with this family. And that’s interesting.

But I didn’t care for the stories about classmate Lily and Mr Grierson, a teacher for whom she did a History of Wolves presentation, winning a prize for Originality. And I had no interest at all in her older life with the mechanic.

Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the preview copy from which I’ve quoted, so quotes may have changed.
Profile Image for Jenbebookish.
620 reviews163 followers
May 20, 2023
I can't figure out how to rate this. I did NOT like this book. The writing is 3 stars, maybe even 4, there is definitely some snippets of really beautiful prose. Even more than snippets actually, the prose is consistently enjoyable, and judged only on the technical, she'd probably walk away with 4 stars, but judging on the overall experience, 2 stars all the way.

The way I felt about this book was the way one feels when they're listening to a story about some random, nondescript person who went to your high school, and the story is about her roommate, who you've seen once or twice in your lifetime at one place or another, and she has this crazy story where she was sent away to some strange cult as a kid where the cult people did weird things to her and so she jumped out of a three story window because she was so desperate to escape, and broke both of her ankles and so had to do an army crawl for two miles and then hide in the bushes in almost freezing temperatures, and then is found and sent back to the cult people where she's bed ridden with metal rods thru her ankles and as a punishment is forced to sleep in her own excrement because the cult people won't come when she needs help walking, and finally at 18 she gets free and ends up homeless hooked on the needle living in an abandoned warehouse with other drifters, and then she becomes a prostitute to support her drug habit and then eventually moves in with one of her johns who's 50+ yrs older than her and manages to squirrel away enough money to send herself to rehab and get herself sorted out and now she's pregnant and works at Nordstrom and is living with that girl who went to your high school. Crazy story right? (It's actually a TRUE story if you can believe that) But you don't know her and you don't even really know her roommate that well, so the story is still just a story, tho a story that you listen to all open mouth and wide eyes. But it's this twisted morbid curiosity that we have as humans, this inability to tear our eyes away from the wreck, the demented pleasure we get in hearing these scandalous stories about people doing devious, creepy things.

That is the only way that I can explain the singular way in which I enjoyed this story. Other than that, I hated it.

It's a story about Linda, a young teenage girl, who on the one end has developed a fascination with Lily, a girl at her school of whom rumors have been spread concerning her and a teacher who is later convicted of possessing child pornography. Whether the rumors were self imposed is really besides the point, Linda harbors some creepy borderline stalkerish interest in Lily. On the other end, she lives in a cabin deep in the woods with her parents, parents who walked away from a communal living situation and who now give her a borderline neglectful amount of freedom to do whatever she wants, which typically consists of days full of the outdoors: pointless walks, aimless wandering, frivolous chores. Then one day she hitches her bandwagon to the family "next door" aka closest to her house in the woods, by lending her services. Soon, she's the full time babysitter. "Governess," as she's referred to once or twice by them. Slowly but surely over the course of her time with them she begins to sense that there is something off, an invisible and silent yet oppressive cloak of WRONG.

In theory, it's good. It's interesting, unique, good writing, etc etc. BUT. I just didn't like it, & I think a lot of that had to do with the MC. She is this dark twisted deep well of unknowable darkness. She's just weird, for lack of a better weird, strange and almost completely devoid of empathy, she's disconnected and BLANK. She provokes. Insinuates. Instigates. But in this empty pointless way. I think my problem is just that I really never understood her. Her background is shrouded in mystery, and we're given this tiny trickle of info about it, but I never figured out how to use it to better decipher her behavior.

I don't know. I think the truth of the matter is that I just didn't "get it." This one just confused me, I closed this book with a...."huh?" "say what?" "Wtf?" Both storylines had the allure of the scandalous, and like every other bobble head I chomped at the bits to see where the scandal would take me, but the end result didn't please me, it disgusted me, and Linda continues on with her mindlessness till the very end.

Me no likey. The end.
Profile Image for Ann Marie (Lit·Wit·Wine·Dine).
189 reviews223 followers
October 24, 2016
History of Wolves is one of those novels that I couldn't put down but, in the end, I have mixed feelings about.

Linda is a socially awkward 14 year old girl living in Minnesota with her family. Her parents, especially her mother, are somewhat strange and detached. When the Gardener family moves in across the lake, Linda begins babysitting for their four year old son,Paul, while Paul's mother, Patra, edits a research paper her husband, Leo, has written.

On the first page we learn that Paul has "gone from living to dead". The story then toggles back and forth from learning of the details and decisions that lead to Paul's death and an obsession that Linda has with one of her classmates, Lily, and what may or may not have transpired between her and a teacher who has since been convicted of child pornography.

The book has a lot going for it. It is very obvious that Emily Fridlund is an extremely talented writer. She absolutely succeeded in making me feel that I was there watching the events unfold. She's one of those writers with an amazing ability to be very detailed in her description of people and places without ever seeming too "wordy". The characters are well-developed and thoughtfully rendered. Paul's story made me experience a huge range of emotions from grief to anger and disbelief.

I did have trouble, though, with the story of Lily and Mr. Grierson. While I understand how that story relates to Paul's in terms of where Linda is in her life and her struggles to fully come to grips with her role in Paul's death, there was something about it that just didn't work for me. I also struggled to appreciate the end of the book.

As a debut, History of Wolves, introduces us to an undeniably talented writer. Though I'm not able to give this book the five star rating I had anticipated at the beginning, I will certainly be looking forward to reading Ms. Fridlund's next novel.

3.75/5 stars
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,048 followers
August 26, 2017
I read this because it was on the Man Booker Prize Long List. I loved the title, the cover (peek inside the dust jacket), but that's where the love stopped.

At first glance, it was hard to stop comparing this book to Marlena by Julie Buntin, a book I read this summer. Both have girls in mid-teens as protagonists, in the woods of a rural northern state that starts with an Mi-, trying to navigate difficult situations with parents that are less than present. Comparing the two, I found Marlena to be better written, more cohesive, and more believable/realistic.

This novel starts by introducing Madeleine, who lives in the woods where a cult compound used to be. The only people left are her parents, at least two adults who are acting as her parents. Across the lake a woman and her child move in and she befriends them and becomes a sort of nanny to the 4-year-old. There is also a storyline going on about a teacher at Madeleine's school who is fired for inappropriate sexual conduct.

First let's take the school storyline. It was puzzling what place this had in the novel. She has one interaction with the teacher that explains the title, but it almost felt like the author was so attached to the title she was forcing this story in there. In the end, I don't think it belongs. The other student, Lily, who is stigmatized based on a rumor about her involvement with the same teacher, is an interesting story but shows up at strange moments. And Madeleine acts strangely towards Lily, in ways that are inconsistent with her character otherwise. There are moments where she seems to be threatening her, almost like a sociopath, but I have no idea where that came from. It seemed like a different novel.

It's also hard for me to think of the main character as Madeleine, because she introduces herself to the family across the lake as Linda, and most of the time when she is addressed, it is by this name.

Gradually a new topic of Christian Scientist and their beliefs against modern medicine starts to pop up. This was interesting but not as developed as it could be. It was like the author wanted to write it with suspense it didn't need, so the ideas are sprinkled in in such a way that even Linda has no idea what is going on. Having both the cult background plus the CS thread seeemed like overkill; the cult ultimately has no major role in the novel.

I was left unsatisfied. I would be shocked if it makes the Booker shortlist, but I've been wrong before. 2.5 stars.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,167 reviews1,641 followers
December 6, 2016
Wow. This book. Do yourself a favor and clear your schedule for 24 hours, find your favorite reading perch, and arrange for someone to walk the dogs…because once you start, you’re not coming up for air.

Madeline Furston is fascinated by the study of wolves and no wonder. At 14 years old, she is living in a failed commune with a father who is “kind to objects” and a mother who means well but hasn’t quite mastered her nurturing instincts. An outcast in her north Minnesota school with a keen sense of woodland survival instincts, she tries to make sense of the world – particularly a possible tryst between her history teacher and the class beauty, Lily.

When Patra – a 20-something-year-old mother – and her toddler son Paul move nearby, Madeline seizes the chance to become involved. She renames herself Linda and becomes an unofficial governess. But something is not quite right with the scenario. Little hints are dropped that could easily fly by (for instance, why is the 4-year-old still wearing a diaper?) but Linda does not have the social skills to decipher what is going on. And when Patra’s controlling and charismatic husband, Leo, arrives, tension really begins to build and yet it’s unclear as to why.

This debut book succeeds on so many levels. The questions at its core are: What’s the difference between what you want to believe and what you do? And what’s the difference between what you think and what you end up doing? At our hearts, are we all children? (Emily Fridlund writes, “By their nature, it seems to me, children were freaks. They believed impossible things to suit themselves, thought their fantasies were the center of the world. They were the best kinds of quacks, if that’s what you wanted – pretenders who didn’t know they were pretending at all.” What happens when our beliefs become so powerful that we become, without intention, freaks?

There are many ways that these themes circle and enfold upon each other and to get into that too deeply would be to create spoilers. I will say this: Emily Fridlund is a true master at ratcheting up tension, creating a compelling atmosphere, staying in control of her themes, and ultimately, unraveling what it means to be a misunderstood predator-of-sorts. The writing is downright gorgeous. This is the real deal. 5 strong stars.

Profile Image for Melissa.
446 reviews
January 11, 2017
WTF did I just read? Madeline/Linda made 2-3 sets of tracks in the snow and none of them ended up at the same destination. What did the Mr. Grierson/Lilly story have to do with the Patra/Leo/Paul story? The writing here was very good, but I think the point of this story ended up abandoned on a canoe in the middle of the lake. Who knows, maybe that was the point? Grrrr... The setting and characterization of Madeline/Linda meshed very well and conveyed a deep sense of loneliness. I'm sure there's symbolism just below the surface that I'm just plain missing.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,043 reviews903 followers
January 20, 2018
Despite the title, this is not a story about wolves.

I'm not completely sure what to make of this novel. It was different, mesmerising and slightly unsettling.

I seem to have read quite a few novels set in remote, desolate and very cold places. This time, it's the woods of Northern Minnesota.

The narrator of this novel is Linda, a lonely fourteen-year-old, who lives with her somewhat recluse and atypical parents in an ex-commune.

When she meets the owners of a newly built house near-by, she has a reason to get out of the house, make some money as a babysitter to four-year-old, Paul and hang-out with Patra, the boy's young mother. The father and husband is a professor, 13 years Patra's senior. We are told quite early on that something had happened. So I kept reading with anticipation.

There's another thread in this story concerning Mr Grieson, the new history teacher, who's attracted to Lily, the most beautiful girl in the class. Linda is watching their interaction and also watches Lily for signs of change. Mr Grieson is not at school for long, as he is accused of inappropriate behaviour.

This novel is hauntingly atmospheric, almost ethereal. Fridlund can write very well. The structure though, especially in the last quarter, discombobulated me at times, as it became more jarring, going back and forward in time. There are quite a few things that are ambiguous and upon reaching the conclusion, I was none-the-wiser. If anything, the ending is one of the most discorncerting endings I remember reading, as I have no idea what it meant and I didn't see it coming, and it made no sense. I will re-read the last pages, but if you understood it, feel free to enlighten me.

This is a novel about loneliness, the need to belong and be loved, and especially about the choices we make and we take or don't take based on our beliefs. It's a good novel, despite its flaws.

I'll conclude by saying that I liked this more than the other Man Booker short-listed novel, Elmet and less than Autumn. So, it gets a 3.5 - 4 stars.
Profile Image for Sue.
1,241 reviews533 followers
July 12, 2017
The initial tension level of this story was maintained at a consistently high level with writing that hints and pulls back, shifts gears between the narrator, Linda/Madeleine, her parents and their history, her school and town, and the new neighbors. There are feelings of menace, in thoughts, in nature, in people, but what is really going on? Our narrator, Linda/Madeleine gives us clues but no answers until late.

I really liked the first two-thirds of the book, where the tension is maintained even as answers begin to come. I do think that the story wanders somewhat in the end, seeming to attempt to finish up old business that didn't need further attention. I also found it slightly confusing because of shifts in the time being discussed.

I do recommend this book for the very well done set up, the development of Linda/Madeleine's character and the creation of an unusual and tension-filled plot.
Profile Image for Brian.
688 reviews335 followers
August 6, 2019
“I mean, you have to ask yourself, from the beginning, what do you think you know?”

I must have read a review somewhere that intrigued me enough to put “History of Wolves” on my “to read” pile. Emily Fridlund is a talented writer, and I don’t regret reading this book, but the story just did not intrigue me. The text was a decent read but I have no desire to revisit or pick Fridlund’s work up again.
In short, I don’t know what this book was about. There are lots of possibilities presented, some of them really interesting, but I feel like none were fully developed. As a result the novel feels like a slow read, although it wasn’t.
As mentioned, Ms. Fridlund is a talented writer, and the text presents lots of moments that are worthy of taking some time to digest. Here are just two examples:

“Of course, things always seem impressive when you’re a little kid. That’s one of the reasons I don’t really want to go back. I mean, who wants to ruin one of those things you like thinking about the most? Who gives that up on purpose?”

“What’s the difference between what you want to believe and what you do?” … “And what’s the difference between what you think and what you end up doing?”

The strength of “History of Wolves” is the truthful rendering of one’s intellectual, private, and subconscious experiences. That is no easy task and Fridlund does that well.
But it does not make for a good story.
Profile Image for Haytham.
147 reviews36 followers
February 3, 2023
في روايتها الأولى تأخذنا إيملي فريدلند في غابات شمال ولاية مينسوتا الأمريكية الباردة مع سرد حميمي من ليندا أو مادلين المراهقة تارة وليندا الشابة تارةً أخرى، تحكي قصتها مع والديها المعزولين في الغابة وضفاف البحيرة وقوارب الصيد وحياة ريفية بسيطة بعيدًا عن المدنية الصاخبة.

"أفكر بطعوم السمك التي نصنعها ولم نفلح أبدًا في بيعها، في أوعية المربى التي ملأناها وحاولنا بيعها عند المطعم في عطلات نهاية الأسبوع، في أن الملابس التي كانت تطويها أمي مصنوعة من ملابس أخرى".

تحدث لها أحداث عديدة تؤثر في مراهقتها المبكرة الغير طبيعية، مدرس المدرسة المتحرش، العائلة المهووسة دينيًا والتي انتقلت للعيش بجانب منزلها في الغابة، وقد عملت كجليسة أطفال لولدهم المريض بدون علمها بمرضه، وتلك المعتقدات الدينية كانت لها بالغ الأثر فيما بعد على الطفل وتمتع والديه بقانون الإعفاء الديني.

لا تنتظر في هذه الرواية لحظة تنوير ولا سرد مباشر ولكن بطريقة خفية وعليك كشفها بنفسك، سرد متنوع الأزمنة مع خلق جو الغابات والعزلة الغامق، كما أن الرواية واقعة في المحلية الشديدة لتلك المنطقة في منيسوتا وقد لا تعجب بعض القراء ولا أنكر وصفها الشديد الوضوح وما يعتمل في ذهن المراهقة ليندا غريبة الأطوار كما كان يدعوها زملاءها في المدرسة.

"سأحكي كيف أتذكر ما كانته الغابة في طفولتي. هناك أشياء معينة عرفتها عن الغابة، لكن دومًا هناك أشياء أخرى كنت متأكدة أني لم أرها في حياتي من قبل".

{القائمة القصيرة لجائزة مان بوكر البريطانية 2017}
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