Set on the Minnesota prairies in 1987, during a drought season that is fostering the demise of the family farms, the story features two intertwining narrators: a father searching for answers after his son commits a heinous murder, and a pastor's wife who has returned to the town for mysterious reasons of her own. A penetrating look at small-town America, reminiscent of Russell Banks' Sweet Hereafter or Affliction, driven by a powerful murder mystery, Little Wolves is a literary triumph.
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Can't quite get my mind around this one yet. I have few doubts that book clubs, having picked this book, will spend many hours debating what it all really means.
The plot swings from one extreme to another -- at points, it's almost too harsh to bear. A young suicide victim is refused burial in the "regular" part of the cemetery, shunted off, instead, to the section for the damned, those hopelessly beyond salvation. And then there's the 'prairie raw', parts, where the bleak and bitter nature of farm life is laid on with a trowel. For me, the dead animal quotient came perilously close to being too high. Time after time, I was within a hair of signing off, finding something a little easier to listen to.
But I didn't turn it off -- which says something else about this book.
It has its delightful moments too, some of them hilarious. This is a German Lutheran town -- seriously judgemental and harsh in its own right, in terms of how 'newcomers' are treated, in terms of what's done and what's not done. In that sense, Clara is a fish out of water. As a pastor's wife, certain standards of conduct are imposed upon her, and she is expected to comply. But she seems blithely unaware, or better yet, doesn't much care. One absolutely hilarious scene has her showing up, seriously pregnant, at a women's circle meeting in shorts, an incident that will no doubt be recounted with titillation and delighted horror for the next hundred years or so. That vignette is wonderful, exceptionally well written and insightful. I wish there'd been more scenes like that.
The narrator? Once again, this one didn't do her homework. I don't understand why professional narrators don't check for the correct pronunciation of local place names. In this one, Hillary Huber, who otherwise does a good job, repeatedly renders the Minnesota town of "Mankato" as man-KHAAT-o, whereas any real prairie kid will know it's man-KAY-o. Stupid error -- would only have taken a moment to check, and instead, it renders her as less than professional.
Would I recommend "Little Wolves"? Maybe. Sort of. I guess. I'm glad I listened, and I know parts of it will stick in my mind for a long time. Other parts are sufficiently disturbing I can't forget them soon enough. If you like prairie stories, with all that entails, you might find it as intriguing as I did.