The Wolf Road
Genre: Dystopian Literature, Fiction
Image via: Amazon
To be honest, I didn’t plan on reading The Wolf Road. I mean for starters, I didn’t fully appreciate how much reading I’d really be doing in grad school, but once I learned (and trust me, I had no choice but learn it quickly), I felt guilty wasting any of my precious free time with “fun” reading. For the sake of my sanity, though, I decided to treat myself to some pleasure reading over Thanksgiving break, which was all fine and dandy except I never bothered to pack a novel. Luckily, my husband is possibly even more of a book nerd than I am (which is saying something, as I am exclusively studying literature in grad school), and he had already checked out not one, not two, but three books from our city’s library and was gracious enough to loan one to me. So long story short, that’s how I ended up falling in love with this book. By accident. The best kind of accident.
I mean it’s obvious, then, that this book is a major “lit” for me. To be fair, though, I wasn’t initially sure. Within the first few pages, I realized a) I was dependent upon a first-person narrator with a very distinct voice (I’m not always a fan of that type of storytelling) and b) I already knew the ending. I mean that’s not because I’m a book-reading genius or because the book recycled a stale, overused plot, but rather because the novel opens with the closing scene. Granted, not the closing scene, but a scene that is rehashed in the last few chapters. And it was good. Super weird, definitely dark, but good. Oh, and it’s totally a dystopian novel, and if you can’t tell, I’m super into that genre.
So I kept reading. And the more I read, the more I became a bit obsessed with Elka, the story’s protagonist. At first, it was an unstable trust, a dependency on Elka to tell her story from her (obviously one-sided) point of view. But as I continued reading, I realized how necessary it was that Beth Lewis choose a first-person narration. The story itself is pretty crazy and out there, but Elka might be unlike any other character I’ve ever read in literature, and I wanted to know what she was thinking. Sure, we’ve seen a few young, independent, knife-throwing, bad-ass female protagonists in a number of dystopian novels (including my current read, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven), but Elka is something special. She’s openly flawed, openly biased, and completely unwilling to really examine her past in fear of what it contains. The climactic scenes are physical confrontations with the “bad guys,” sure, but also moments when Elka finally rediscovers aspects of her childhood relationship to Trapper (“Bad Guy #1”). In a sense, the reader has no choice but to accept her shifting, unreliable versions of events until Elka herself learns the truth. So as I read, I had the pleasure of joining Elka in her revelations, her journeys but also her discoveries inward. Plus, there’s the added bonus of reading a post-apocalyptic novel from the first-person perspective of someone who finds certain bizarre features of the world entirely normal.
I mean, there are definitely some fantastical elements aside from the novel’s dystopian setting. Elka strikes up a relationship with a wolf pup, for example, and conveniently saves the day in multiple crazy situations, and on occasion, she seems perhaps a little too badass, a little too capable. But with Beth Lewis’s writing, you can’t help but accept the unbelievable moments without question, because you recognize that it’s a worthwhile sacrifice to follow Elka through her story.
I’m beginning to realize how, assuming they have writing talent and a creative idea to work with, literary agents might be the best authors (Jandy Nelson is another fave). They know what readers like, and they know how to shape and edit their writing accordingly. Oh, and they have access to the publishing world, which must be quite convenient. At the very least, I’ll keep an eye out for other agents-turned-authors, as they haven’t disappointed me yet!
So essentially what I’m saying is this: If you’re struggling to find a good novel and you’re willing to tough it out with a totally bizarre narrative voice, give this one a chance. I don’t think you’ll regret it.