History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

Emily Fridlund: “As I tried to understand both these qualities in this peculiar teenage girl, it began to make sense to me that she would be a person forced into independence at a very young age, a kid schooled by woods and lakes—and that this very same background would also make her wretchedly solitary.” (“Stories We Tell When We Won’t See What’s in Front of Us,” in History of Wolves).

The feeling is that there are no grown-ups.

The feeling is that everybody is so caught up in themselves and their needs that they are acting irresponsible. They forget or cannot love. They lack empathy.

History of Wolves is a difficult book with a teenage character who is capable and loyal and yearning. There are big people, but no grown-ups in her life; just other children like her, fellow wolves, raised in transgression. She tries to find these other kids; she wonders about them, would pack up.

For much of the story she tries to teach a young one how to live in the woods there, how to spread and distribute your weight in order to crawl across thin ice. What to eat, what not to eat. Grasshoppers. Plants with milky juice.

But there is no saving this little wolf from the big people.

The whole book I want her to be loved. But none of the characters loves her. Her parents are not capable. The people she becomes loyal to are so caught up in their own stuff.  The wonderfulness and depth of this young person is seen only by the reader—and Linda is a frank person so in touch with her own violence that it makes it difficult to face her truths. But I relate to her. I want things for her that a parent might, like true love and a job that fulfills her heart’s desire. At the same time, I think I know that those ideals are not anything that can be secured, except in fleeting moments that pass and come again and pass. In places unexpected. In reading. In transformation through reading.

“I was focused, calm. I pointed to diagrams of pups in different displays of submission, and quoting from a book I said, ‘But the term alpha—evolved to describe captive animals—is still misleading. An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason.’ Those words always made me feel I was drinking something cool and sweet, something forbidden. I thought of the black bitch at the Nature Center, fixed in her posture of doggy friendliness, and I recited that part of my speech over again, slowly this time, like it was an amendment to the Constitution” (Emily Fridlund, History of Wolves).

History of Wolves is set in the woods of northern Minnesota and in the context of sexual violence, which haunts those woods and the narrator’s fantasies.

And I am reading it in the context of my personal history with sexual violence, as well as in this historical moment, with its “Hollywood sex scandals” and #metoo testimonials.

It’s a moment that calls to me from the lynch mob.

I felt that once at a rally, when the crowd took off running after some neo Nazis. I felt the excitement. Righteousness licked up through me, like fire. I came to consciousness, running with the mob.

“Afterward, one of the judges poked his pencil in the air. ‘But—I have to intervene here. There’s something you haven’t explained very well. What do wolves have to do with human history?’ It was then that I saw Mr. Grierson by the door. He had his jacket in his arms like he’d just come in, and I watched as he caught the eye of the judge and shrugged. It was the subtlest shift of his shoulders, as if to say, What can you do with kids? What can you do with these teenage girls? I took a deep breath and glared at both of them. ‘Wolves have nothing at all to do with humans, actually. If they can help it, they avoid them’” (Emily Fridlund, History of Wolves).

I felt that more than once driving to work. I taught today about Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 Supreme Court Ruling, which affirmed that “there is no such thing as a fundamental right to commit homosexual sodomy.” The majority opinion described it as “an offense of ‘deeper malignity’ than rape, an heinous act ‘the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature.'”

I heard it in the chants of Act UP activists in the documentary we watched. (Linda would understand my ambivalence, light and dark projections, a history of shame and pride shift across my skin.) They stood up to police on horseback. They threw the ashes of their loved ones on the White House lawn. They pointed. They shouted. They buried one another furiously, “The whole world is watching!

“The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!

“Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!”

It’s a moment that calls to me from the lynch mob. From Linda’s wolf knowledge, from mine.

“‘An alpha animal may be alpha only at certain times for a specific reason.’ Those words always made me feel I was drinking something cool and sweet, something forbidden.”