An atmospheric, near-gothic coming-of-age novel turns on the dance between predator and prey.
Fridlund’s debut won the McGinnis-Ritchie Award in 2013 for its first chapter. It’s a 17-page stunner that begins with a child ghost and ends in a chorus of communal condemnation. The novel itself unfurls in far northern Minnesota, where a 14-year-old named Mattie Furston, who calls herself Linda, is living on a failed commune with her parents. She's hungry in flesh and spirit, a backwoods outcast among “hockey players in their yellowed caps...cheerleaders with their static-charged bangs.” She chops wood and cleans fish with her father, who was “kind to objects. With people he was a little afraid.” When a young woman moves with her 4-year-old son into a new cabin across the lake, the teenage Linda, who's looking back on these events as an adult, is hired to babysit. Fridlund is an assured writer: she knows how water tuts against a boat hull and how mosquitoes descend into any patch of shade. Her sense of cold freezes the reader: “Beneath a foot of ice, beneath my boots, the walleye drifted. They did not try to swim, or do anything that required effort. They hovered, waiting winter out with driftwood, barely beating their hearts.” As dread coils around Linda, the novel gives up its secrets slowly. One concerns an eighth-grade teacher accused of owning child porn; another is tangled in the newcomer family’s Christian Science. Fridlund circles these threads around each other in tightening, mesmerizing loops. The novel has a tinge of fairy tale, wavering on the blur between good and evil, thought and action. But the sharp consequences for its characters make it singe and sing—a literary tour de force.
Four years after its initial prize, this slender work is worth the wait.