Like many coming-of-age stories, History of Wolves features a grown-up narrator looking back on an event in her teenage years that forever changed her belief in the way the world works. The brilliance of this novel is that the events that ruined Madeline, aka “Linda,” are so appalling that they may change the way the reader believes the world works as well.
The story opens in the middle of a typically punishing Minnesota winter; the superbly talented Fridlund makes you feel the cold in your joints and imagine the sound of a knock on the crust of ice over a snowdrift. Linda lives with her hippie parents in such poverty that they not only lack central heating but a door: Only a tarp stands between them and the cold.
Then a new family moves into a new house across the lake from Linda: Leo and Patra Gardner and their little boy, Paul. Linda is taken on as Paul’s babysitter. To the perceptive Linda, they are just a shade off normal, which entices her because she’s just a shade off normal herself. But soon the reader, with a skin-crawling dread worthy of any decent slasher movie, begins to realize that something’s more than just not right. You only hope that it’s not what you think it is.
But learning that it’s not what you think it is brings no relief, because what is really going on is ever so much worse. When what happens happens, you want to stop and go back to the beginning of the book to search for the clues you knew had to be there. You’ll find them.
Fridlund earns a place as a top-notch writer with this remarkable, disturbing debut.