Monday, July 22, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home (Carol Rifka Brunt)

"You can't open the book of my life and jump in the middle," Captain Mal Reynolds protests in a Firefly episode. But you can open Carol Rifka Brunt's Tell the Wolves I'm Home and come pretty close to mine.

I do this most of the time. Read a book and write about what it makes me feel, rather than nitpick characterization or analyze it using Foucault's discourse of power. I'm going to do it again now. Warnings for emotions spilled in the guise of dissecting a text. Warnings for potential incoherence.

Still there?

June, the book's protagonist, is coming to terms with the death of a beloved uncle, Finn. He is her mother's only sibling and he and June are more friends than relatives. They have a special bond. He brings her to galleries and restaurants and medieval festivals. They talk about art and movies and things important to them. They are more friends and soulmates than uncle and niece. Despite the fact that we only see Finn as June remembers him, their relationship is carefully detailed and preserved. But Finn has another life that he has kept from June. It is the late eighties; not much is known about AIDS. But after Finn's death, June meets Toby, and begins to realize that she is not the only one who misses and grieves for her uncle.

I don't know if my appreciation for June's story stems from how lucid the writing is or if it is only lucid to me because nearly every page seems familiar. The way June resents how she is 'just the niece,' not the one that the guests would console at a funeral. The way she wonders whether she knew Finn at all, or if it had been Toby she had been discovering through Finn. The way she constantly looks for her uncle in every thing and every place. Ms Brunt ushers us into June's head and makes sense of her emotions. The narrative reserves its shining moments for June and Toby, as they stumble through their fledgling friendship and try to gain what they had lost when they lost Finn. But, again, I am reminding you: I am the unreliable reviewer today.

The novel doesn't forget the premise it sets out. Grief is not insular. It can heal and unite, though I may be doing the text a disservice when I lay that out in such simplistic terms. Still, June slowly sees beyond Finn and Toby to others around her who are also dealing with the loss in their own way. June's relationship with Greta is a strong sub-plot that neatly ties back into the main thread. It is a coming-of-age novel and a family novel as well.

It is by no means perfect; that much I can admit. The prose can get bogged down by over-articulation, too much tell than show at times. There is a bit about art at the end that I am not a fan of. I don't mean to nitpick but the resolution over Finn's painting -- an important device throughout the story -- just seemed too far-fetched to me that it almost soured the reading experience. Almost. But whatever its faults, Tell the Wolves I'm Home was still one of the most moving reads I've come across this year. I will not be reading it again.


It has been ten years. Happy birthday, Uncle.

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