Saturday, January 16, 2010

Review: The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney

genre: literature/mystery

Set in a frozen Canadian settlement, The Tenderness of Wolves begins with the circumstance that lies at the heart of most mysteries: a murder. The victim is a voyageur, close friend of no one, and our first narratator is the neighbor woman who finds him. Slowly we become acquainted with Dove River and its inhabitants, as well as those who make their way there, for one reason or another, because of the murder. What follows is a tale of disappearances and journeys, heartbreak and desire - desire to change the past, desire to have what you can't grasp and a desire to know the truth.

And while it is certainly a mystery, it's also an examination of motives and consequences. Each revelation of the past and each new decision brings certain characters ever closer to understanding each other - or themselves. The frozen wasteland of Canada at the time is practically an invisible vice, the weather and its whims stranding people or destroying evidence, wreaking havoc and forcing choices to be made under the harshest of circumstances. Often the characters in this novel are interacting as much with the wilderness as they are with each other.

It's lovingly written, as though the author were acquainted with these characters and wanted us to see them in all of their facets. Few are completely sympathetic, but all are real and exposed. Every chapter begins with a different narrator and it always took at least an entire paragraph, if not an entire page, for me to figure out who was talking. At first it slowed me down, but then it became part of the mysterious nature of the book and I enjoyed the challenge. While I always loved the writing style and was always happy when I had the chance to read it, it didn't grab me and pull me in until the last third, but I did notice that even when I wasn't reading - this land and its people were on my mind. I could so easily imagine the barren landscape, the profile of the native trackers and the musky glow of the firelight.

While it was not flawless (the ending left me feeling like I wanted more), it did transport me to a Canada of old, full of forts, trappers, prized pelts and the terrifying howl of wolves in the night -with nothing between you and their eyes but a piece of canvas.


Hilarie said...

I read this book last year and liked it. This was a lovely review, as always!

bermudaonion said...

This does sound interesting. A change in viewpoint can throw me off for a little while too.

Holly said...

Your beautiful writing reflects the beauty of the book. Like you,I found the ending a bit of a surprise--in the way it was NOT neatly tied up and completely satisfactory. But I thought the ending was true to the characters and true to the cold, barren landscape in which it was set.

Loved it!

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