I put Tell the Wolves I’m Home on my reading list a while ago, but I didn’t get around to reading it until last week. I’m really glad I did, though.
It’s an excellent read; filled with great characters, a warmth and fascination with what’s beautiful in the world, and it evokes a bygone decade without being too hokey or obvious about it. Most importantly, though, it deals with life and death in a way that’s both warm and meaningful. [SPOILER ALERT: I’ve tried to avoid it, but there may be the odd one from here on out].
It’s the story of a girl whose uncle is dying, and who isn’t getting on with her sister. There’s more to it than that – much more, but it’s beautiful. The narrator’s voice felt slightly stretched at times as June, a fourteen year old thinking big questions about the world – but not to the point that it was a major flaw. June is a likeable protagonist, with frustrations and questions that seem real. Her uncle, Finn, is loveable and remarkable. He’s an enchanting character on his own; constantly excited by the beautiful, the mysterious, the interesting things in the world. Reading this book made me feel … more excited about life, is how I’d put it.
And the relationship between June and Finn is a rich one; she adores him, and he shows her an exciting New York world that’s bigger than her suburban existence. There are points in the novel where I felt … uncertain about how the relationship was handled, but overall it was well done.
The relationship with June’s sister, Greta is excellent; particularly the moments where we see June not appreciating her sister, not reading the language her sister is speaking, as their words drift past each other. That could have been done poorly, but it wasn’t; it felt natural, and was a nice example of a moment where the reader sees things the narrator is oblivious to, so that the narrator’s blindness becomes part of the story (I’m reading The Rhetoric of Fiction at the moment, but more on that later).
There is a death in the novel; Finn’s happens in the first few chapters. The rest of the story, in some ways, is about how different people deal with Finn’s death. The story is warm – there is a happy ending, of sorts – but it’s also real, and doesn’t feel like it’s trying for easy answers. I won’t say too much more on that, but I liked it alot, for both those reasons.
A final, footnote is that the story is set in an era when AIDS still looms unknown, when Gary Hart is still on television as a major figure, and when Trivial Pursuit isn’t buried at the bottom of a cupboard. It manages to evoke that point in time without being obvious about it; it felt natural, and the era is a backdrop, not a character.