By Chet Yarbrough
History of Wolves
By: Emily Fridlund
Narrated by: Susan Bennett
Emily Fridlund (Author, Man Booker Prize shortlist for-History of Wolves)
Emily Fridlund’s “History of Wolves” cleverly reveals the fears of life for children, young adults, and parents. It is told from the perspective of an adult woman’s recollection of life in a Minnesota wilderness near Lake Superior. The nature of human beings is aligned with the nature of “…Wolves”.
Fridlund infers humans are sexual animals, congregate for purpose, live in extended families, and die alone—just like wolves.
Fridlund’s main character is raised in a two-parent family with a mother who pushes her daughter to be better than her parents through education and experience.
Fridlund’s fictional family appears to be living the life of the 1960s/70s flower children who wish to return to a simpler life in the wilderness.
The daughter works while in high school and becomes acquainted with neighbors across a lake she lives on in Minnesota. The daughter, a teenager, becomes a babysitter for the new family. The husband of this new family is frequently away from home.
A friendship develops between the daughter and the mother of a 3- or 4-year-old boy. The daughter agrees to babysit for $10 a day. A friendship between the new neighbor evolves into something more in the mind of the daughter. The “more” is characterized as erotic, at least from the daughter’s perspective.
Part of Fridlund’s story is about older men who groom younger women in high schools and universities.
The author’s beginning infers a level of “grooming” complicity from younger women, not for sex, but for personal identity. Fridlund’s inference is discomfiting. It suggests humanity is just another species of animal, something like a predatory wolf. Fridlund’s story is frightening because it infers predation in both sexes. There might be some truth in Fridlund’s view for a college student, but high school seems a step too far when her main character partially absolves a pedophile fired from the school she attends.
Some listeners may feel the distinction between high school and university students is prudish, but character seems much less formed in high school than the age of most college students. The experience difference between high school and college age students makes the author’s “wolf” categorization of human sexes unjustifiable.
There is more to the story than Fridlund’s perception of the predatory nature of humanity. Fridlund tells a story that addresses a fundamental conflict between religion and science.
An older university professor (the husband of the new family across the lake) marries one of his students. They have a child. The child is stricken with an illness. The professor is a Christian Scientist who eschews medical treatment. The professor is characterized as a highly intelligent astronomer who is writing a book on the origin of life. The child dies from his illness. Both the professor and his wife are taken to court for child neglect.
Fridlund goes on to explain her main character is raised by a family that believes in Mary Baker Eddy’s religion. This added information posits a broader view of the potential harm religion inflicts on society.
The daughter grows into adulthood. Her father dies and her mother’s well-being is diminished either by age, the deterioration of her house from a storm, or her belief in a religion that insists on the healing power of prayer.
There is also a whiff of guilt shown by the main character in the death of the baby-sitter boy. She realizes a warning could have been given by her to the authorities about the fragile medical condition of dying boy and their parent’s Christian Scientist’ beliefs.
The last chapters of Fridlund’s story are a flash back clarifying her “wolf” categorization of both sexes.
Fridlund’s writing is excellent and Susan Bennett’s narration is first rate. The quality of Fridlund’s story is enlightening to one who wishes to have a broader understanding of life. There are three categories of human beings in Fridlund’s book, tigers, wolves, and victims. The women in Fridlund’s book are tigers. The men are wolves. Society is the victim.