Exquisite novel by Humphreys (The Lost Garden, 2002, etc.) explores how humans are attracted to and fearful of the wildness they sense within themselves and those they love.
Alice is the center of six people who share a strong and troubled bond. They gather evenings on the edge of the woods, trying to call their dogs home. Alice is present because her out-of-work boyfriend took her dog to the woods to join the pack of wild dogs. Jamie’s hated stepfather also brought his dog. Walter’s dog was banished because he growled at Walter’s grandchild. Lily’s parents set her dog free to join the feral because they think she’s not responsible enough to take care of her dog, due to brain damage suffered when she was a child (she accidentally set a fire, then was badly burned saving her baby brother’s life). Malcolm’s dog ran away while he was out of town (a neighbor was supposed to be looking after him). A biologist who studies wolf packs is there, too, calling for an adopted wolf that’s gone back to the wild and is leader of the pack. Occasionally, the six actually do glimpse the dogs. Sharing memories of the walks they took with their dogs, they grow increasingly close. After a bad night with her boyfriend, Alice moves into an abandoned cabin on Malcolm’s land, and soon the biologist becomes her lover. Her elegiac second-person description of their affair is the emotional anchor of the story. The dog pack lives on rodents and rabbits, occasionally a sheep, causing farmers to call for a hunt on them. As pressure builds, everyone seems headed for trouble. Lily disappears, Malcolm becomes jealous of Alice’s lover, Jamie and some high-school mates rob a gas station, the biologist seems to cool toward Alice.
Mysterious, poetic, suspenseful, heartbreaking: magnificent fiction that evokes the complex connection between humans and the natural world in language that brings to mind Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing.