Minnesota Dark

9780802125873History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund, Grove/Atlantic, On our shelves now

This is a powerful and harrowing coming-of-age story that shows the power of self-deception.

Fourteen-year-old Linda and her parents are the last remaining members of a failed commune living on the banks of a remote lake in Northern Minnesota. Mocked by her peers and living in great poverty, largely neglected by her parents, Linda is curious about other people’s lives, but struggles to understand others’ feelings and motivations. She becomes fascinated by her new, significantly more affluent neighbors, the Gardners. She becomes close to the mother, Patra, and her four-year-old son, Paul, although when the father, Leo, appears she is suspicious of him. But her new friends are hiding secrets deeper than she could ever imagine.

Linda is a complex character; serious and obsessive, and, despite a knack for keen observation, repeatedly blunders into situations she doesn’t really understand. She is naïve, longing for love and a different kind of life, and her blindness to what is really going on in the Gardner family reads as completely deliberate, particularly at the very end when she finally falls over the fine line of innocence that she has been teetering on for so long—and still doesn’t speak up. There is no denying her failure, when she is the one person who could have averted tragedy.

The book suggests from early on that all is not well with the Gardners, but exactly what is going on behind the new family’s façade is not clear until late in the book, and it’s shocking. While it seems initially odd that the on-the-surface ‘normal’ Gardners are so willing to accept Linda, who is clearly quite peculiar, by the end it’s apparent that only somebody as desperate for connection as Linda, could have found a place in the Gardners’ lives. Anyone more perceptive or experienced could never have become so close without suspicion, or been so willing to ignore the signs of something being profoundly wrong in the family.

Beautifully written, with outstanding descriptions of Northern Minnesota, the book builds a threatening atmosphere that makes disaster inevitable. Forboding hints are strewn throughout the story, but none of them add up…until they do, and the effect of this is astonishing. Genuine surprise is rare in contemporary literature–it seems that all the unexpected twists have been used so often that there is nothing unexpected any more. The frequent reader is often suspicious and able to figure out the ending before it happens. Not this time and, in a way, it was a pleasure to experience the unexpected, horrible though it was.

A compelling, although not always pleasant, read.



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