Review: TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME: A NOVEL

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August 3, 2016 by kitmoss

tell te wolves i'm homeREVIEW:  Tell the Wolves I’m Home: A Novel

by Carol Rifka Brunt

 Publisher: The Dial Press (June 19, 2012

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NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Wall Street Journal • O: The Oprah Magazine • BookPage • Kirkus Reviews • Booklist • School Library Journal

In this striking literary debut, Carol Rifka Brunt unfolds a moving story of love, grief, and renewal as two lonely people become the unlikeliest of friends and find that sometimes you don’t know you’ve lost someone until you’ve found them.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • NAMED A FAVORITE READ BY GILLIAN FLYNN • WINNER OF THE ALEX AWARD 1987.

There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.

An emotionally charged coming-of-age novel, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a tender story of love lost and found, an unforgettable portrait of the way compassion can make us whole again.

REVIEW by Christopher Hawthorne Moss

This is one remarkable novel.  It takes place in the late 1980s in the suburbs of New York City and involves a teenage girl whose artist uncle dies from complications due to AIDS.  She is an adolescent who is convinced her uncle only cared for her, with her artistic tendencies and fascination with the Middle Ages.  She likes to go into the woods behind her high school and pretend to be some sort of oppressed young girl hiding in the woods.  On regular Saturdays she and her mother and sister visit the uncle in the big city where he is painting the girls’ portrait.

When the uncle dies the young girl, June, learns he had a lover, and in various ways the uncle asks June to look after Toby who is utterly alone.  June has heard her mother, the uncle’s sister, blame her uncle for having AIDS and being gay, so when she learns about Toby she is distrustful.  She hears her mother say that Toby murdered her uncle, and she metes out any kindnesses very reluctantly.  It is hard to know why June decides to meet the man at all, but she does and slowly comes to like and even love him.

Toby is a sad man, bereft of the only person he ever truly loved, infected by AIDS himself, but his motivation for meeting with June is his lover’s plea to look after her.  June learns he had been in prison but then finds out it was for defending himself against bullies.  As she gradually learns about the love the two men shared, she learns everything about love.

Her sister Greta starts out as the mean older sister who belittles everything June cares about and achieves.  Greta is on a self-destructive bent, and one thing I missed in the novel was how the self-destructive tendency panned out in the future.  But June’s complicated adolescent psychology is masterfully portrayed by the author, who shows how June’s smug judgment of the weaknesses of others and her skewed interpretation of others’ feelings about her and each other gradually start to come to understanding.  She loves her sister and her mother but has to learn their motives for how they treat each other.  She learns their wishes and dreams, not to mention her uncle’s and Toby’s.  The people she knows in her town start to demonstrate kindnesses and caring.  As June realizes her part in the problems she has with others, she starts to learn how to see them.

One thing I cringed about while reading this novel was the ever-present likelihood of danger, misunderstandings, unwise talk, and other things that made me dread the next chapter.  It was hard to take how June treated the hapless Toby or how she lashed out at her sister.

On the other hand I could relate to June.  As a young adolescent I was as obsessed with the Middle Ages as she is in this novel.  My mother, much to my amazement and gratitude, made me a Robin Hood costume one year for Halloween.  They let me buy shows that were like a jester’s.  My bedroom was done up with posters of Mont St. Michel, and my bedspread looked very medieval.  If I could have visited New York’s The Cloisters, I would have been in seventh heaven.  But I grew up to be a transman, so I am not sure I had the same psychology as June.

The mother, Danny, is very hard to forgive in this novel.  AIDS was new when her brother became ill, but her reaction was horrid.  She punished him by not letting him bring his lover around her girls, so poor Toby had to sit in the basement when they were there at the apartment.  It took a great deal of pain for the mother to accept and forgive both herself and her brother’s lover.

There is a reason I am not fond of teenagers.  They are so sure of themselves, even the self doubting ones, and they can be terribly judgmental.  This novel did not make me care for June.  I constantly dismissed her.  If at 64 I am supposed to be above that all, it didn’t work.  I grieve for Toby, that’s all.

 

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