352 pages, Soho Press
Review by J. S. Colley
I received a galley copy from the publisher for review purposes.
Little Wolves weaves myth, folklore, and modern-day news headlines into a haunting literary thriller/murder mystery.
The setting is 1980s rural Minnesota as a small, close-knit town comes to terms with a horrific act of violence. The story features the new pastor’s young wife, Clara, who teaches at the high school and is working on her doctorate in Anglo-Saxon literature; and Grizz, the father of the teenage boy who commits the terrible crime.
The morning of the violence Clara glimpses, through a small basement window, the familiar boots and long, oiled coat of Seth Fallon when he comes to knock on her front door. The long coat brings up images of the real-life Columbine massacre. I found this disquieting and, at that moment, I wasn’t sure I was emotionally ready to read the novel. The images seemed too visceral and near, but I’m glad I stuck with it. The rest of the novel is a thrilling, disquieting, and mesmerizing account of Grizz and Clara’s individual journeys as they struggle to deal with their personal guilt concerning the incident and their individual past connections to the town and its inhabitants.
The story is woven with the underlying thread of wolf folklore and mythology. When she was a child, Clara’s father told her tales of wolves, and her students were studying Beowulf before the incident. When he was younger, Seth saved several wolf pups from sure death, and now they roam the woods and the mountain behind his father’s farm. There are more wolf connections, but I don’t want to give too much away.
Another theme is the parent-child relationship. Clara is pregnant and, having been abandoned by her mother, must come to terms with this knowledge before the birth of her baby. Grizz must learn to live with the aftermath of his son’s actions while examining the cracks in their relationship.
I wasn't sure at first about some aspects of the ending but, after sitting on it for a few days, I realized it fit perfectly within the underlying themes of folklore, paganism, and mythology—the heroes are always bigger than life, and the monsters are always…well, “monsters.”
Little Wolves is reminiscent of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong, but grittier. I loved the poetry of the writing and the storytelling, and the author’s use of metaphor and simile. It is a great read with loads of literary merit.