Wednesday, October 2, 2013

TELL THE WOLVES I'M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt

Fourteen-year-old June Elbus's beloved uncle Finn, a renowned artist, has AIDS, and in the 1980s that was a death sentence.  His passing leaves June bereft of her best friend, and now it's tax season, when her CPA parents are too busy to notice.  Toby, Finn's live-in partner, steps in to fill the void as June's new confidant.  Everyone blames him for passing along the HIV virus to Finn, and consequently he's a persona-non-grata at the Elbus house, as if having AIDS hasn't made him enough of a pariah already.  As June gets to know him, she discovers that some of her favorite memories of Finn are more indicative of Toby's influence than of Finn's personality.  Meanwhile, June's older, prettier, smarter, and more talented sister, Greta, seems to be self-destructing, even as she is getting attention from Broadway casting personnel for her upcoming performance in her high school's production of South Pacific.  Greta becomes increasingly more vindictive and condescending toward June, such that at times June cannot decipher whether Greta is being genuinely nice or just setting June up for ridicule and embarrassment.  At the center of the plot is a portrait of the two girls that Finn completed just before his death.  The painting endures some transformations that I found to be somewhat unlikely, from a reality standpoint, and even a little bit appalling, but I think the author has something symbolic going on here that I can't quite fathom.  The two sisters share ownership of the painting, and it brings them together in an odd way, outside of the fact that they're together on the canvas.  There may also be a message here about making your mark and expressing your individuality, even against a backdrop of near perfection; everyone has something to offer.  Fortunately, no one has monkeyed with the perfection of this novel, which I savored from start to finish.

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