Review: Tell the Wolves I’m home by Carol Rifka Brunt

The title of the novel is special; maybe a bit irrelevant and not finding the exact extracts of relevance in the beginning, but it’s special for two sisters, June and Greta. Their uncle, who happened to be a famous painter, painted a portrait of both sisters and then named it, ‘Tell the Wolves I’m home.’

The painting is special too, not because the strokes of the brush are from the hands of Finn, uncle of the girls, but because he left it unfinished before dying of AIDS. The novel carefully constructs itself around the painting throughout till the end, beautifully bringing it in every now and then.

The novel is set in the 1980s, and by the standards of that era, homosexuality was still struggling to ignite a feeble spark of belonging for the human race. Finn is a homosexual and has another painter, Toby, as his partner.

Finn dies due to AIDS and that gives the plot a twist which will set attitudes of the characters of the novel for the pages to follow. In those days, the way Donald John Trump doesn’t believe that climate change is a real thing; the same attitude was displayed by Ronald Reagan for AIDS.

Both girls are too attached to their uncle Finn, especially June, and when he died she was naturally the most affected by the incident. Their mother approved of Finn and allowed her girls to visit him every Sunday, but she couldn’t keep up the same attitude for Finn’s partner, Toby. She considered him the actual reason for the death of Finn as the disease of AIDS was transmitted through Toby.

The painting was started in a studio of Manhattan where Finn lived. Both girls used to pay him regular visits. Now, after his death, the unfinished portrait is submitted in a bank vault and only three people can access it –June, Greta and their mother.

June was more attached to Finn so she has more cogent feelings. She wants to see the painting finished and more importantly, now she has to take care of Toby too because of a letter from Finn in which he has asked for this favor. In this portion, the family seems to scatter emotionally and, also somehow, in presence. The notions which the girls’ mother had about Toby leads to the development of potent feelings of antipathy between both sisters. June, by now, has developed a friendship with Toby and her sister doesn’t like it.

It is worth noticing here that the author portrayed the mother, not as a person who would look down upon the people who in a way are deviating from the normal values of a society. She had genial relation with Finn, her brother, when he was alive. She never brought anything up which might make Finn uncomfortable about his sexuality, yet she never encouraged it and has also barred him to speak of it with the girls. It can be assumed that she didn’t approve of it entirely, but accepted it because she was unable to persuade her brother to change.

Since the portrait has been submitted in the safe vault, the unfinished parts of it were completed by the visits of the sisters and Toby. The portrait which was left to them by their beloved uncle is now complete. The divided family, along with the finished portrait, tries to mend the broken ties in the end. The author advocates, through this part of the novel, that acceptability is a bliss. As long as you don’t accept something or someone who opposes your ideas, you are in fact depriving yourself of an inner peace. You are waging a war which stands for nothing and, in the end, it is you against yourself. To accept the difference is the pith of humanity.

When someone would finish the novel, the name and its relation with the portrait will also take a new turn in the previous attempts of comprehending it. The name could possibly have been given to the portrait because after school June used to go and spend some time in the forest behind her school to get close to nature. During these visits, a kind of allusion penetrated her thoughts that wolves are calling her. The portrait made by Finn also had in it a bust of a wolf, so the name comes in agreement with the theme of the painting.

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