November 20, 2013

A threatening visitor to the farm

By Valerie Hobbs
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In Valerie Hobbs' new novel, Wolf, Jack the border collie has landed in the perfect place. Loved by his teenage boy, Luke, he’s the top dog and responsible for safeguarding a small flock of sheep on the family farm. Jack has only one nagging concern. He’s growing old.

Soon, an unwanted visitor changes everything. A lone wolf, banished from his pack, lurks in the woods near Jack’s farm, and his constant, harrowing presence—stalking the sheep and hoping to mate with Jack’s granddaughter, Callie—gives a frightening edge to the book that compels the reader’s rapt attention.

This dramatic sequel to Hobbs’ popular novel, Sheep, alternates between Jack’s and the wolf’s points of view. In an unsettling voice, the wolf counts his journey in moons and his narrow gaze sees the world as rock-strewn hills, grassy slopes and woods for hunting. His reactions are visceral, his life an ongoing battle for survival. He is acutely lonely, “a feeling so unfamiliar that at first he confused it with hunger.” He’s drawn to the family farm by the slow-moving sheep that look like easy prey—far easier targets than the rodent that bit him, causing a wound that will not heal. Wolf’s austere existence is contrasted with Jack’s loving family and the day-to-day concerns of Luke and his friends.

Jack isn’t as quick as he used to be, and Wolf could have become another tired story of an aging dog’s quest for a blue ribbon at the state fair. But Hobbs foreshadows the drama to come with restraint, saying of Jack, “He would rather die than disappoint Luke.” As the fast-moving plot progresses, the tension is tightened like a string, with each incident, each phrase, increasing it slightly.

The contrast in tone between the two animals and the transparency of each canine’s thoughts and desires is gripping. Raised by humans, loving Jack wins our hearts, but it is the wolf, wild and terrifying, who ultimately wins our respect and our pity.

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By Valerie Hobbs
ISBN 9780374315757

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