The Tenderness of Wolves
My interest in this novel was heighted by two outside pieces of information: that the author was a screenwriter and that she had never been to the area north of
The Tenderness of Wolves is essentially a mystery which takes place 1860s
The structure is interesting. There are four main sections, corresponding to the different settings and to the stages in the investigation. Within each section are subsections, using focusing on different characters. Mrs. Ross actually narrates the sections where she’s the main focus, but you see her from the outside when she appears in the other sections. The other sections use a sort of Jamesian center of consciousness, with the narrator getting into the head of another character. One can easily see the influence of film.
It’s a complex plot with lots of characters and no real interest in the man who was killed except that the wrong persons are being accused. I found this a page turner until maybe two-thirds of the way through where it suddenly occurred to me I didn’t really care about any of the characters. Nor did I care who killed the trapper since it was clear it wasn’t the two sympathetic characters who were accused. Nor were they in any real danger of punishment for a crime they didn't commit.
The role of “The Company” that controlled the fur trade in British North America, in the novel and in the community, is interesting and Company men are generally bad guys, except Moody who “figures it out” during the course of the novel. But that theme is generally ancillary and not really developed. (I was astounded when I first went shopping in Calgary years ago to find the main department store, referred to by initiates as “the Bay”, was that same company which Wikipedia describes as the “oldest commercial corporation in North America”.
My assessment of this novel: the structure is near perfect, the setting is powerful, the plot is OK, and the characters are skillfully imagined but ultimately bloodless. Mrs. Ross, for example, narrates bits of her past in an insane asylum where she evidently was the favorite of a nutty doctor (made me think of the main character in Atwood’s Alias Grace) but the background generates questions that are never answered. That’s true with other characters as well. Perhaps the difference is that the characterization in film, which of necessity relies on snippets, isn’t really enough for a really effective novel.