Both mythical and terrifying, Little Wolves is a beautifully written tale of extremes, of lives spent in a harsh wilderness beset by drought or blizzard: Lone Mountain, Minnesota. Pregnant Clara Warren, one-time scholar of early Anglo-Saxon literature, has urged her husband, a Lutheran minister, to accept this distant post, drawn to the story of her own beginnings in this place—a mother who dies in the snow, her baby wailing nearby. Clara recalls the fables woven by her father to explain her survival in the world, tales of infants rescued by wolves, a history made of mythology and vague images, but never the true details of her mother's death or her rescue as an infant.
When teenaged Seth Fallon stalks through Lone Mountain carrying a loaded rifle, he stops to knock at Clara's door. She freezes in place in the basement, filled with apprehension and unable to answer. Seth continues on, shooting the sheriff point blank in his patrol car. Seth's lifeless body is discovered later in a field of corn, assumed dead from a self-inflicted gunshot, his pockets full of unspent shells. The town reacts with outrage. Seth is to be buried outside sacred ground, forever an infamous murderer. The sheriff's two sons are left fatherless, their mother mentally ill and housebound.
While the strangely prescient Clara—and the mystery of her beginnings—are the heart of this story, a parallel theme evolves in the reaction of Seth's father, Grizz Fallon, to word of his son's final actions. A rough-hewn individual who loved his son deeply and raised him single-handed after the boy's mother died. Grizz pondered how to breach the distance between them as Seth withdrew into adolescence, leaving the man with sore regrets at his failure. When the wolves draw near in search of Seth, who rescued and protected them, Grizz feels his wounds afresh and worries for the animals should they wander near town. Clara hears the wolves and seeks them out, though they are cautious.
An act of redemption arrives in the guise of another boy, the sheriff's younger son. Given the peculiarity of their first meeting, Grizz begins a tentative relationship with the young boy, who has a learning disability, before it is abruptly ended by his older brother. This unexpected crossing of paths will bear fruit in time, will beget an act of mercy in a moment of great danger. But boy and bereaved father are unaware of this fragile bond when first they meet, the boy tumbling to Grizz's feet in an act of mischief.
Everything about this novel is memorable: its remote setting; the vivid, damaged characters; the questing Clara blooming with child, teacher and near-friend to Seth; Grizz Fallon, grieving father acting to protect his son even after death; a minister struggling to communicate with his reluctant flock. Maltman's prose is vivid and evocative, rendering place and event in striking images, from Clara's fable strewn memories to Fallon's determination to give his son a proper burial. There is mystery, danger and horror in Lone Mountain, ugly secrets to be exposed, the commonplace cruelties of rural life and the twisting of the human psyche perpetrating monstrous acts on the helpless, a young man marching through the streets with a loaded rifle and a young woman about to learn her mother's tragic story. This is a novel to be shared and savored, fiction at its finest, infused with tragedy and truth.