Review: Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

It is a rare occurrence in today’s quick-fix best-seller fiction, but every so often you stumble upon a book that takes your breath away – a book you know you will read over and over and it will never get stale.

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is such a book.

What is surprising about this book is not so much that it that it is written with incredible skill and care, but that it is the debut novel for the author and Brunt seems to have jumped right over first novel territory into a place where she has a mature and beautiful voice: artful use of language, an insight into literature, and an understanding of the way a story should be woven not only in terms of plot but in terms of layers of descriptions, similes, and symbolism.

Brunt’s descriptions of places, people, and memories are not only clever and perceptive, but precise. For example, she is able to describe the essence of the main character, June, with one sentence: “Crocodile was a name Finn invented for me because he said I was like something from another time that lurked around, watching and waiting, before I made my mind up about things.” (Pg. 7)

Brunt doesn’t tend to rely on the tried and true similes but comes up with her own fresh ideas, for example: “Greta’s talk is like a geode. Ugly as anything on the outside and for the most part the same on the inside, but every once in a while there’s something that shines through.” (Pg. 52)

The most apt descriptor for this story would be a love story. And then another love story…and so on. It is about a girl and her uncle, a girl and her sister, a sister and a brother, an artist and his secret lover, a father and a mother, a girl and her forbidden friend; and all these love stories are bound together and revealed by the terrible, and wonderful, things we do for love.

The book begins with June Elbus and her older sister Greta being painted by their Uncle Finn who is dying of AIDS in 1987. The time period itself is a refreshing change in a world where most books are set either further in the past, in the present, or in some yet to be discovered future.

When Uncle Finn does die, June is left with a gaping hole in her life that no one understands. In fact she is often begrudged of her grief because Finn was just an uncle after all. But to June he was much more than an uncle. He was the one person who could read her heart and make her feel special; he was the person June felt she couldn’t live without.

Brunt’s descriptions of June’s grief and the fear that comes with it are so sincere that anyone who has lost a love will feel their heart being embraced by such aching phrases as “Not only because Finn had never told me…but because there was no way to ask him about it. And until then I don’t think I really understood the meaning of gone.” (pg 55) and “I understood how just about anything in the world could remind you of Finn…Things you’d never even seen with Finn could remind you of him, because he was the one person you’d want to show.”

In the shadow of this unbearable grief is a whisper of hope in the form of Finn’s secret boyfriend, Toby, who shows up in June’s life to deliver an old Russian teapot from her uncle. The relationship between these two people who loved Finn deeply, but were never allowed to meet, is at once awkward, sweet, hilarious, and eventually intimate. Even as the pressures of the outside world threaten to tear them apart their bonds grow and together they manage to find a sense of hope.

With so many different relationships making up this story it is little surprise that the climax involves the bringing together of all these stories, but even if you can see it coming it does nothing to curb the mounting suspense as you wait for something, or everything, to break.

Five out of five stars, but only because there is no way to give her six out of five.

As an end note it must be mentioned that Brunt gets an extra nod of admiration from me for referencing A Wrinkle in Time in her book.

2 Responses to “Review: Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt”

  • Mum Says:

    Another fabulous review! It makes me want to read this, and I guess all reviews aren’t meant to make you want to read the book; there are cases where the reviewer doesn’t give the book great ratings. But if it was what we call a book talk in library circles, it fulfilled the calling. I think I’ll pick this one up.

    Your writing and the way you got inside the centre of the story to tell us about it does you credit. You’re getting better all the time! Keep it up!

  • Maureen S. Says:

    Great review! You’ve definitely peaked my interest to read this book! I love authors that use beautiful descriptions that make you want to keep rereading the same sentence or paragraph, wishing that you could actually think and speak in those terms yourself. This sounds like one of those authors- thanks for the insightful review!

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