I don’t usually read new fiction. By new fiction I mean fiction published within the last two years. The most recent “new” novel I read was All the Light We Cannot See, and I technically haven’t finished that novel (I’m a really slow reader). Some people might say “Hey, 2014 isn’t that old,” but it is. By this time next year there will be thousands of more books printed and shipped to thousands of bookstores all over the world that trying to decipher what is considered “good” on your own will be an even more daunting task. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent looking at book titles written by authors that haven’t yet made a name for themselves, wondering if I should risk a jump into the unknown. I don’t even want to get into detail about the number of times I’ve made a purchase that has turned sour. If only there was a way to know for sure if what I was buying was actually worth it.
One night, when I was delving deep into the Barnes & Noble website dreaming about what kind of life I would have if I worked as a bookseller for one of their stores, I ran across a special program Barnes & Noble holds for new authors. Since 1990, the Discover Great New Writers™ program has chosen a few writers to be featured in hundreds of Barnes & Noble stores across the nation. Yet, it’s more of a competition than a program. Publishers from all over the country submit novels from new up-and-coming authors and give authors a chance to get some recognition. This is how I stumbled into History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund.
When I first read Chapter 1 of History of Wolves, I kept thinking I was reading a short story instead of a novel. I wasn’t entirely off. In an interview conducted for the American Booksellers Association, Fridlund mentions how the novel started as a short story and that eventually, she became so captivated by Linda (the main character) and her voice that she had to continue. As a quick summary, the book centers on Linda, a young girl living in northern Minnesota, and her journey through what we call “coming of age.” The official Amazon book summary is this long thing:
Fourteen-year-old Linda 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, Linda 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 Linda as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.
And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Linda 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, Linda 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, Linda confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love.
If the summary and my prolonged intro doesn’t seem to compel you to read this novel, take one of my favorite lines from the first chapter:
But in the second before we rise, before he whines out his protest and asks to stay a little longer, he leans back against my chest, yawning. And my throat cinches closed. Because it’s strange, you know? It’s marvelous, and sad too, how good it can feel to have your body taken for granted.
After I read that line, I had chills.
With that said, I definitely recommend this to anyone that is interested in a fresh new voice. Fridlund is someone I will definitely be looking out for in the years to come.