Title and Author: The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis
Publication Date: June 2016
Genre: Thriller, Post Apocalypse, Western
How I got it: Bought it used at the bookstore I work at
“This is a world a’ hurt and shit and blood and bullets. This is a world where a strong arm is a’ more value than a strong mind. The Damn Stupid changed up the people a’ this country, changed up coin to mean not much, changed up cities, changed up the law, it made murderers a’ all us what’s left.”
This is a weird thing to say about a book, but The Wolf Road reminds me of a Quentin Tarantino movie.
The novel combines several genres: the western in tone and setting, thriller in plot, and post apocalypse in background. I wonder if it was originally inspired by “Little Red Riding Hood,” because the novel has all the elements of the fairy tale — grandmother, child, wolf — without resembling the plot. It’s not in any way a retelling, but it does have some glimmers here and there of LRRH.
When Elka’s seven, a super storm hits and kills her grandmother. Years earlier her parents left in search of gold, so now Elka’s in the woods alone. A man she calls Trapper adopts her and teaches her wood lore and how to hunt. She loves him, and he seems to love her in his own way. His one rule: never speak of him to anyone else. When Elka’s seventeen, she goes to the closest town to pick up some supplies, and sees a wanted poster with Trapper’s face on it. He’s wanted for multiple murders, and it’s not until then that she realizes he’s a serial killer. When Magistrate Lyon sees Elka’s reaction to the wanted poster, she realizes Elka knows the man.
Elka escapes into the woods on a mission to find her long lost parents, but two hunt her — Magistrate Lyon and Trapper.
It may seem like I’m giving too much away, but you find out about all of this within 10 pages.
The setting and characters are pure western, as is the dialect. Some reviewers complain about the dialect, but for me it made the novel. I can’t imagine it written in any other way.
The thriller aspect is obvious — murder, a chase. But while the plot revolves around these tropes, Lewis twists the typical revenge plot in a unique way by concentrating on Elka’s internalization of memory. The end was intriguing and full of psychological insight.
The apocalyptic past almost seems like an afterthought, but I loved the hints of it here and there. Bombs in the water, a poisoned landscape, giant storms. They call it The Damn Stupid. Could the setting be some kind of alternate history, if the Cold War had turned into nuclear war? That’s hinted at once. I also like the bits about environmental protection: “Figured the land owed me that, but right now, looking at that land, us humans owed the wild so much more.”
Lewis also subverts some common apocalypse genre tropes — mainly cannibalism and rape. It’s a refreshing take after reading some recent, post apocalyptic novels that depend too much on cliché representations, like California and On Such a Full Sea. I also love that Lewis writes women who represent several different character types, but then these types are once again subverted, which I appreciated. Lewis adeptly manages to combine a thrilling plot with layered characters.
I’m giving this a 4 instead of a 5 because sometimes, especially at the beginning, it felt like the trials on Elka’s journey/escape were a bit contrived. I realize that’s kind of a necessity for a thriller, and maybe that’s why I don’t read those that much. Once the story got going, I no longer had those issues.
Oh, and somehow in this review I forgot to mention the wolf. You’ll have to read the novel to find out more about him!