I Hold a Wolf by the Ears

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To hold a wolf by its ears is to be in a precarious situation, one in which it is dangerous to hold on and equally perilous to let go. The characters and narrators in Laura Van Den Berg’s stories are often in such predicaments. A woman recalls her time in an unidentified adolescent treatment center after several attempts to kill herself. Another drives around Florida at night, seeking images to photograph while she flees the sounds of her neighbor wailing. A mother whose difficult young daughter has a malignant tumor.

All of these stories drop the reader immediately into them, with little by way of identification: you are pulled along, as if you were hitch-hiking and the driver who picked you up wants to tell you a story. Many of them are told from a vantage point a few years on, showing us that the characters survived, although it isn’t always clear whether they are glad to have done so.

Sharply written and keenly observed, the stories are hard-edged; you may find it difficult to forget the semi-anonymous narrators, whose lives are full of grief, hangover, and loss. Abrupt departures and strange encounters weave through the collection, giving one or two of the stories a haunting fairy-tale quality. Although I admired the skill with which Van Den Berg crafted her stories, I can’t say that I enjoyed them. Like the proverbial wolf, I found it difficult to hold on to them, and not easy to let them go.

Reviewed By:

Author Laura van den Berg
Star Count 4/5
Format Trade
Page Count 224 pages
Publisher Picador Paper
Publish Date 27-Jul-2021
ISBN 9781250798664
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Issue December 2021
Category Poetry & Short Stories