Tell the Wolves I’m Home
by Carol Rifka Brunt
The Dial Press
Reviewed by Nancy Ellegate
The AIDS crisis of the 1980s (it wasn’t widely known as HIV or as a pandemic yet) sets in motion the events of Tell the Wolves I’m Home. It’s 1986. Fourteen year-old June has enjoyed a special relationship with her Uncle Finn, a successful artist in New York City. Now Finn’s dying of AIDS and working to complete a portrait of June and her older sister Greta. Finn’s partner, Toby, is never there and never mentioned because June’s mother wants it that way. After Finn’s death, Toby and June begin a clandestine friendship; Finn’s portrait of his neices comes to figure in lives of June and her family; June learns about her mother’s choices and frustrations; and June contends with the sister who has gone from close confidant to mean girl.
Readers interested in the literature of HIV are advised that while 1980s AIDS is a backdrop of this novel, it’s a hazy backdrop. The work occasionally alludes to, but is not steeped in, the events or opinions of that era, some of the most crucial years in the HIV timeline. While author Carol Rifka Brunt focuses on personal relationships, some items could have been a bit more faithful to the time. June’s mother is depicted as having been both understanding and protective of a gay brother in a conservative household, but also as the person who blames Toby, a relatively recent partner, for causing her brother’s death. Even in 1986, less homophobic people didn’t think this way. Similarly, Toby’s final illness is more a literary conceit than the death people had in that era. The novel succeeds much better in its depiction of the relationship of sisters June and Greta. Terrible teens who have grown apart and then come together, I liked them both, and Brunt is talented in her depiction of the emotional lives of young women.
Nancy Ellegate is a sometime book reviewer for A&U.