Monday, July 9, 2012

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

I love the title of Carol Rifka Brunt's debut novel, Tell the Wolves I'm Home. It's about family relationships and so I expected the wolves to be dysfunctional parents along the lines of Karen Russell's stories in St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Brunt's wolves, however, are the difficult things in life and learning to face them instead of running away.

It takes place in New York in 1987, but I consider Tell the Wolves I'm Home to be a historical novel because it's about AIDS before AZT treatment. Attitudes toward homosexuality have come a long way in the past 25 years too.  

June is 14 when her beloved uncle Finn dies. (Finn's pet name for June was Crocodile, which reminded me of another of Karen Russell's books, Swamplandia!, which is totally irrelevant and featured alligators, not crocodiles. Sorry.) June is awkward and lonely at school, estranged from her older sister, and their parents are buried in work. Comfort comes from an unexpected source when Finn's longtime lover, Toby, contacts June. She had not even been aware of his existence while Finn was alive, although she did see him outside her uncle's funeral.

Brunt's focus is on family dynamics and the shifting relationships between two sisters in their teens, as well as love, loyalty, grief, and shame. There were the same themes in Swamplandia!, come to think of it. Maybe it's a relevant comparison after all, even though there is no magic realism in Tell the Wolves I'm Home. They are both fabulous books.

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