You know this is true. The soul gets lonely down there inside the human body, and it’s looking for a kindred soul. Sometimes in the wild swirl of the world, the soul may feel a connection, but what if that kindred is in the wrong place? The novel Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, is about love and relationships, not in the usual romantic sense, but about being able to connect.
Although the true nature of the soul is not the body, the world—as we know too well—is utterly obsessed by physical bodies, and often it will say “these two bodies are not allowed to associate with one another”? In such a case the world rises up like a howling mountain of NO.
We’ve seen the damage that gets created. We’ve read and seen and sung other stories, from Romeo and Juliet to To Kill a Mockingbird, and we come back to these stories because they’re always in some ways our own story. Tell the Wolves I’m Home is told in first person by June Elbus, a 14-year-old girl. There are no car chases, shootouts, or vampires (though at times there is the sound of wolves in the distance), but as a story of human interaction, this is necessarily a story with mystery and drama.
Several motifs run through the novel, tying plot lines together and helping to create interactions between the characters. The most important of these motifs is a painting that June’s uncle Finn does of her and her sister together. The painting itself is mysteriously called “Tell the Wolves I’m Home”, giving its name to the novel.
June’s story involves three major relationships, with her uncle Finn, a famous artist dying of AIDS, with her sister Greta, two years older, and with a third person who enters June’s life as if out of thin air but with a profound effect. Each of these relationships is so complicated that at times June seems stifled by layers of emotional interactions. A very intimate feeling in the book also keeps the reader very close to June’s thoughts and emotions.
Like so many people, June is most alone in a crowd. Where can a girl who wanders by herself through the woods pretending she is in the Middle Ages find the person to appreciate who she is? One of the things she shares with her uncle Finn is this medieval interest, and when she visits him in New York City, they sometimes go to the Cloisters medieval museum. Finn is so important for June that the things she receives from him, physical or emotional, she hangs on to when she feels disconnected from other people.
A secondary plot runs through the book with the story of June’s sister Greta, who spends the entire novel rehearsing for and performing in the musical “South Pacific”. We only see Greta through the filter of June’s feelings, and though the two were extremely close when younger, there is now a tension between them, a game of loving and hating in which they never seem to be using the same rules at the same moment. Greta’s life looks to the reader like a cry of pain, but June is fourteen and struggling with her own needs, so that she doesn’t hear the cry.
The major plot of the novel involves June’s unexpected relationship with the stranger who appears at a funeral, a relationship that is literally a mystery to everyone she knows until the very end of the book. It is also the most unlikely of all her relationships, connecting her with both her uncle Finn and her sister Greta. In the end, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is about the soul looking for connections through the noise, confusion, and pain of the world.