When I was working at Chapters, I kept seeing this book on the shelf in the fiction section, staring out at me for weeks, and finally decided to get it. It follows the story of teenage Linda, living with her parents on a lake in northern Minnesota. On summer, a family with a 4 year old son named Paul move in across the lake, and Linda begins to babysit Paul. Over the course of that summer, “Linda makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life.”
From that synopsis, I was prepared for some sort of epic, tragic revelation and subtle but crazy events at every turn. There’s this whole build up to what happens to Paul; you know something bad is going to happen to him (it’s revealed in the first page), but you don’t know what. Then finally when it does happen, I was a bit shocked but it all happened so fast, I expected more to come. And then when it ended later without much else happening, I was just super underwhelmed. It was not what I was expecting; it was subtle to the point of being almost so subtle I missed what the point of it was.
The story is told in first person narrative from Linda’s point of view, and it switches back and forth from the present, when Linda’s all grown up and lives in the city, and the past, when she was babysitting Paul that summer. The writing is fairly decent. I didn’t feel it was too pretentious like some literary fiction I’ve read, and it wasn’t crappy either. The prose could be a bit confusing at times though – especially towards the end, but I think that’s mostly because the ending itself was confusing.
But as far as stories go, it failed to make me care about any of the characters – even Paul. I mean of course I didn’t want anything to happen to him, but I think part of the problem was knowing something was going to happen to him anyway, so I was already desensitized to it from the beginning. As for Linda and everyone else, the characters all seemed pretty bland and one dimensional with not much going on in their lives, so it was easy not to care – which is not ideal when reading a character driven story.
It took me longer to finish than I would have liked for a book that I was so looking forward to. In fact, I ended up doing my dreaded skimming towards the end because I’d been reading for so long and nothing was really happening. This is not an action paced book; it’s more thought and memory paced. And there’s nothing wrong with – but it was simply too slow for my liking. Not to mention, there was a subplot that didn’t seem to go anywhere, and seemed pointless and disconnected from the main plot. It deals with Linda’s fascination with a girl at school, Lily, and Linda’s observance of one of the teacher’s taking possibly too much of an interest in Lily. I thought by the end of it the two plots would weave together in a significant way, but by the end of the book, I truly had no idea what the subplot had to do with Paul’s story.
I enjoyed the analogy and metaphors of the forest, the woods, the weather, and the dogs Linda and her parents owned, but none of it seemed to play an instrumental enough part – especially given the title. I really like wolves, so part of my excitement to read this book was that I thought it would have more to do with wolves or parallel them somehow or they would be a symbol for something, and perhaps that was the author’s intention – but it missed the mark for me. As such, in the end I felt like the book was speaking to some deeper meaning or theme that I just didn’t get; I didn’t feel like I was in on the joke. Now of course, this may mean there’s something wrong with me and not the book, which is why I might try re-reading it in a few years. But if I come up with the same reaction again, I’ll know who the culprit is.
I’m hesitant to recommend this one. If you really like literary fiction or books with a slower pace and memory recall, you’ll probably like this one. If you’re looking for something shocking and exciting with lots of plot and intrigue, then don’t bother, because thats what I thought this would be.