Emily Fridlund's debut novel, History of Wolves (2017), is a lovely piece of writing - thoughtful and complex, weaving out the improbable death of a child while three people stand idly by. Madeline is a 15 year old girl who lives with her parents in what is described as barely a shack in the woods, a former commune that her parents were a part of, until everyone scampered off. Mattie and her family have little electricity, not to mention food, and no car. Mattie is responsible for getting herself to and from school and feeding herself and their ragtag dogs that wait for her every day, barking at the end of their leashes.
When a new family moves in across the lake, Mattie introduces herself to the young mother and her 4 year old son as Linda and soon begins seeing them every day. She is grateful to be easily pulled in by the generous and friendly mother, Patra, who pays her an unheard of $10 per day for babysitting Paul. It's slowly teased out that Patra and her husband are Christian Scientists, a meaningless phrase to Linda, who is oblivious to the failing health of Paul, only happy to have recreated herself as the protected nanny/babysitter of this relatively wealthy family.
Fridlund does some very interesting things with the timeline, providing the briefest of glimpses into Mattie's future and the effect her year with Paul's family had on her. She remains desperately poor but also responsible for her own ailing parents. There's a frustrating lack of guilt from Paul's parents and from Mattie and what emerged for me was a pattern of negligence that bred negligence. Mostly overlooked and uncared-for by her parents, Mattie was unable to recognize that Paul was in desperate need of help. Her own desperate state, unacknowledged, left her without the capacity to see another being in need.
Mattie repeats to those interested enough to ask, that her interests lie in the "history of wolves" - a subject dismissed by her teachers as something girls are fascinated with and actually something she knows very little about herself. But the image of wolves roving silently around the lake, making what one can only assume is their brutal existence, is a powerful one and easily applied to these two families that have separated themselves from the rest of society to live as they wish, with mostly disastrous consequence.