Comments from the judges
History of Wolves is an example of perfect American fiction.
A big ambitious novel, it has a timely topic – the danger to children of parents who have strong religious beliefs which reject certain modern medical treatments – or, even, any scientific medical procedures. The novel raises serious questions about parental rights. How far does the parental right to make decisions for their children extend? At what point should an outsider over-rule controlling parents? The theme of individual responsibility and guilt is central to this novel.
As in the other great novel on the shortlist, Idaho, the landscape and nature of America, the big wonderful wilderness, is a key element in History of Wolves. The descriptions of the setting, the lake, the forest, the canoeing on the lake, are perfect.
Above all, Emily Fridlund’s writing is breathtakingly good. She has an enviable command of her medium, the English language:
Of Ice skater Sarah:
Her body was like a wet branch, her taut muscles holding some weird snap that seemed mechanical and a bit dangerous. Everyone assumed that triples hung in her future, that they followed her magically wherever she went, dangled just out of reach. Triple Salchow, triple loop, triple flop, triple Lutz. That meant Upper Great Lakes, Midwesterns, Nationals, Worlds.’ (p. 165-6)
In passages like this, she gives us the music of the language of the mid west, the idioms and motifs of Minnesota. Hers is an amazing talent and this novel is a great achievement.
About the book
Teenage Linda lives with her parents in the 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 outsider at school, Linda is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is faced with child pornography charges, his arrest deeply affects 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. But with this new sense of belonging come expectations and secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a summer, 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.
Winner of the McGinnis-Ritchie award for its first chapter, and A BEA Buzz Book and An ABA Indies Introduce Selection, Emily Fridlund’s agonizing and gorgeously written History of Wolves introduces a new writer of enormous range and talent.
About the author
Emily Fridlund grew up in Minnesota and currently lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Her first novel, History of Wolves, was a finalist for the Booker Prize and the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction, and longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Fiction. It was awarded the American Academy of Arts and Letters Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. It was also a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, A New York Times Editor’s Choice, one of USA Today’s Notable Books, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a #1 Indie Next pick. The opening chapter was awarded the McGinnis-Ritchie Award for Fiction. Fridlund’s debut collection of stories, Catapult, won the Mary McCarthy Prize. Her fiction has appeared in a variety of journals, including Boston Review, ZYZZYVA, FiveChapters, New Orleans Review, Sou’wester, New Delta Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Southwest Review.
The heroine of Fridlund’s novel narrates the events of one summer that culminated in the death of a little boy. Subjects such as religious sects, the secluded life in rural northern Minnesota and the difficulties of fitting in are beautifully described in this coming of age tale.
A stunning novel set in the austere woods of northern Minnesota tells the chilling story of a girl and the mysterious family she befriends.