Little Wolves by Thomas Maltman
Published by: Soho Press
Published on: January 8, 2013
Page Count: 352
My Reading Format: Audiobook requested via Audiobook Jukebox‘s Solid Gold Reviewer program
Audiobook Published by: AudioGo
Narrator: Hillary Huber
Audiobook Length: 8 hours 24 minutes
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook, and Audiobook
Clara lost her mother when she was only a baby. Her knowledge of what happened was explained to her by her father, but mainly through the use of myths and talk of wolves. He was never very forthcoming about the facts and after he passed away she became determined to learn the truth. She married Logan, a Lutheran pastor as young as she was. When he was looking for a new assignment, she steered him toward the small Minnesota town where they lived at the story’s opening. They are new to the town, new to marriage, and expecting their first child. While awaiting the birth, Clara takes on a long term substitute teaching assignment that brings her into contact with Seth, a young man with a troubled reputation. Although his family has lived in town for generations, he is held at arm’s length by the town as much as Clara is due to family history. His reputation was cemented when the local sheriff is murdered by a sawn off shot gun and Seth is later found dead of a self inflicted gunshot wound by the same gun. Grizz, Seth’s widowed father, has always tried his best to do right by Seth. Still, they weren’t as close as he would have liked them to be. He vows to discover the truth behind Seth’s last hours. Both Grizz and Clara realize almost immediately that until Seth is truly laid to rest that there will be no peace for them or the town.
While the novel about a murder/suicide taking place in a small Midwestern town does not appear to be anywhere near outside of my comfort zone, Little Wolves very much was. It has been a long time since I’ve considered Beowulf or his story. I last read it as a freshman in college. After completing that course, I’ve rarely given the story another thought. Even as a teenager or young adult, stories of mythological battles and journeys never captured my imagination. I didn’t abhor it the way I did Moby Dick or Heart of Darkness, but I was pleased to get it behind me. Little Wolves relies heavily on the mythology surrounding Beowulf. It’s what Clara was teaching her students and its imagery was ever present. Its darkness hung over the town. Although the basic story line and the major characters all came back to me over the course of the book, there was a meshing of reality and myth that kept me on the edge. I kept wondering if this novel was going to veer off into the wilderness. This not knowing made the experience quite interesting and it was impacted more than once by the arbitrary decisions I made to stop reading for the night. I never felt balanced in Thomas Maltman’s world and, as the book ended, that felt right.
There were sections of the novel that felt over-the-top earnest to me. I first encountered this in the beginning with Clara and Logan’s marriage. Clara had rescued a cat and was keeping it in the house to keep is safe in the cold. Logan is allergic to cats, but the tension in that scene and the few that followed, including his response to her pregnancy felt overdone, almost forced. As the novel progressed and more of Logan’s character was revealed, my impressions of those first scenes of them together were reinforced. Likewise, there were aspects of Grizz’s story that stuck out in the same manner. While these scenes didn’t spoil the book, it kept it from being as suspenseful and engrossing as it could have been.
Until I began Little Wolves, I’d never listened to a Hillary Huber narration. It was an excellent introduction to her work. Her smoky voice blended perfectly with the novel’s landscape. While a pregnant Clara is one of the central characters, it is heavily populated with men. Hillary expertly gave voice to them all as individuals. I can so easily picture Grizz with that gravely, life-stained voice. From soft to gruff, she brought the characters and their stories to life with grace.
Reading Little Wolves during the stark and dreary days of January felt right. The story and Hillary Huber’s narration reinforced the landscape and sentiment of the novel. Despite the issues with forced tension, I was engaged with the story throughout. It was important to me to know what happened and why. This novel felt authentically Midwestern and has all of the determination of the people who work the land there. It’s a gritty, intelligent novel that translated well to audio. It may not have made me want to run off and start reading Beowulf again, but it added Thomas Maltman to my list of authors to watch.