Little Wolves, by Thomas Maltman

Is there actually a mountain on the eastern Minnesota prairie? Did a young man who lived near it intend to commit a murder? Did he intend to kill himself? Did he actually kill himself? Was the man he murdered saint or sinner? How and why did the young priest’s wife end up reliving her mother’s last act?

We wrestled with these and a batch of other questions as we discussed this intriguing book, and were mixed in our reactions to it. The myths of early Anglo-Saxon literature fit in nicely—the coyote (Maltman calls them “little wolves”) who rescued the human baby, the man who turns into a wolf—and become intertwined with the reality of lost souls in the tiny prairie town, where people still blame dark deeds on the ghosts of the Native American who settled here first.

But some of the themes work, some don’t.

Our overriding question was: Where have all the editors gone? This is not the first time we asked this question—many of the books we have read have suffered from the need of an impartial expert to cut unnecessary details and story lines, to help the writer focus.

This could have been a brilliant book—and with more time from an editor, it should have been. Much of the writing is beautiful and the imagery is elegant.  It was an enjoyable read, but not completely satisfying afterward.  Too many themes were only loosely resolved; others were  introduced then dropped, leaving us to wonder what to make of it all. Likewise, some of the characters were weakly drawn, including the teenager Seth, who is at the center of things; the newly minted priest Logan, who could have been fascinating with just a bit more focus; and Clara, who is looking for her own roots by studying ancient literature.

The setting was wonderfully imagined and Maltman makes the community itself a central character, which gives the book much of its strength. The father-son bonding throughout was compelling, especially in the ending, which was far lovelier than we could have expected.

We recommend the book, despite the above reservations, and would love to hear others’ reactions to it.

—Patricia Prijatel

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