If This, Then That: History of Wolves

Posted 2 January, 2017 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

If This, Then That: History of WolvesHistory of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Published by Grove Atlantic on January 3rd 2017
Pages: 288

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Linda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her 'Freak', or 'Commie'. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family's orbit, she realises they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; but if she doesn't, their son may die.Superbly-paced and beautifully written, HISTORY OF WOLVES is an extraordinary debut novel about guilt, innocence, negligence, well-meaning belief and the death of a child.

I want to start with a brief review of Fridlund’s History of Wolves. While I usually love debut literary fiction novels, History of Wolves was a bit of a failure to launch for me. I felt like Fridlund was a little too ambitious with this story. It’s true that the writing is lyrical. She attempts to create an atmosphere that is charged with the feeling something isn’t quite right, but this ultimately fails. The burn is a bit too slow. The juxtaposition between the scandal of child pornography and the family that seems a little too good to be true doesn’t quite come off.

Ultimately, I felt like the narrative push and pull that Fridlund seemed to be aiming for in History of Wolves failed because she was trying to do too much. The atmosphere in the woods, Linda’s school life, home life, and time she spends with the Gardners never really becomes a cohesive narrative. The reader thinks that there’s something slightly off about the Gardner’s, but honestly up until the reveal (which because of heavy handed foreshadowing was completely expected) it’s truly hard to really care.

I think that Fridlund would have been better served to focus completely on the story of Linda and the Gardner’s, cutting out the whole bit about the teacher and her odd upbringing in the commune.

That being said, if you read this book and enjoy it, or even mostly enjoy it I have to point you towards The Children Act, it explores similar themes of the rights of people to their religion weighed against the rights that their children have. It’s a fascinating first amendment discussion for anyone who wants to have it.

So Reader, what do you think? Have you read History of Wolves yet? Does it sound like your kind of thing?

April @ The Steadfast Reader


  • I have it, but based on this, I’m going to set it aside. I’m already disappointed by the 2017 books I’ve read so far so appreciate your saving me from this one.

  • Sad, this one sounded SO GOOD from the blurbs.

  • Lynda Tysdal

    Awww. I’m still going to give this book a shot, just because the concept sounds so good, and it’s a book set in Minnesota (where I live, even if I am in the “big city” and this one seems to be set “up north”), and the author is doing an appearance at my favorite (independent, local) bookstore in a couple of weeks.
    Quick question for you as a blogger — I’m always excited for you bloggers when you talk about having gotten a copy of a book from the publisher/at a convention, you must have SO many books to read! What do you do with the advance copies when you’re done reading them? Pass them on to others? Put them in your local Little Free Library (if you have one close by)? Enquiring minds want to know. 🙂

  • I’m a sucker for books that raise first amendment issues. I’ll look into
    The Children Act and possibly History of Wolves, even though it wasn’t a
    great read for you.

  • I’m sorry to hear this didn’t quite work for you. I would like to check out The Children Act though. It’s one my mom has been recommending for ages and I just haven’t gotten to it yet.