three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
31-Nov-Dec-2007
By: 
Stef Penney
user_rating: 
0

A-The Tenderness of WolvesEuropean immigrants living on the harsh, mid-19th-century Canadian frontier face many challenges—not least of all human connection. When French fur trapper Laurent Jammett is scalped in Dove River, a small outpost in the Northern Territory, characters with different agendas forge complex relationships as they follow tracks from his cabin into the northern tundra. Among them are half-Indian William Parker, who wants to prove his innocence; Hudson Bay officials investigating a crime; an archaeologist hoping to discover an artifact once owned by Jammett; and Mrs. Ross, whose son Francis befriended the murdered trapper before disappearing himself.
Simon & Schuster. 384 pages. $25. ISBN: 1416540741

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Wolves is actually an elegiac musing on the nature of isolation—what one character calls ‘the sickness of long thinking.’ … In the end, while the mystery comes to a satisfying resolution, what stays with a reader is Penney’s evocation of a wild and lonely land and the tough-minded humor of a woman who’s learned to survive in it." Yvonne Zipp

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[Mrs. Ross’s] first-person voice is interspersed with a third-person voice—an effective device that brings a fierce intimacy to the novel’s vast and impersonal setting where ‘the silence is so intense that even the dogs’ whining cannot break it.’ … Canada is only a metaphor for a far more isolated and lonely setting: the human soul." Margo Hammond

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Penney’s prose is so authentic, so very atmospheric in capturing the angels and demons of the country, that it is hard to imagine she wrote this book after doing all her research in the British Library. … This is a first-class murder mystery, which must be doubly commended considering that the setting and the time (1867) leave no chance to employ any urban noirish trappings." Vikram Johri

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The mysteries that make up The Tenderness of Wolves are compelling, although some of the business that supports the story—a sexually confused young man, a woman dealing with mental illness and drug abuse, man’s exploitation of natural resources—all sounds far more contemporary than historical. That, of course, is one of the points of historical novels: There’s nothing new under the sun—even the cold December sun that shines over Georgian Bay." Tim Cuprisin

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"No prize on Earth can erase the embarrassment of the ending of this otherwise quite fine book. … As I said, this is an interesting novel. Freezing-cold Canada proves to be a fascinating locale." Carolyn See

Critical Summary

Long-listed for the Orange Prize and winner of the Costa Award (formerly Britain’s Whitbread Award), Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney’s first novel, has garnered acclaim in Europe and the United States. A screenwriter, Penney casts the harsh Canadian landscape in vivid, cinematic hues while portraying a small society born of isolation, corporate greed, and an unforgiving environment. Although a murder mystery with many plot twists, the novel most successfully reveals complex human desires, motivations, and relationships. Some critics faulted Penney’s "noble savage" stereotypes, clichéd dialogue, and unremarkable ending. However, as the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes, "Sometimes the journey is just more interesting than the destination."