Cover Image: I Hold a Wolf by the Ears

I Hold a Wolf by the Ears

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

Engrossing, chilling and subtle, this collection of short stories will draw readers who enjoy reading about characters stuck in their own heads, wandering aimlessly, and hyper-focused on a single moment.  At times absurd and humorous, at times eerie and speculative the author is a master of the hooking line and creating an entire world within few pages.  I would highly recommend this book to those who enjoyed stories by Lidia Yuknavitch, Carmen Maria Machado, or Etgar Keret.
Was this review helpful?
Really enjoyed all these stories. It's rare to find a short story collection where you actually enjoy every single story, but this one, I did. I will recommend this one in all my book groups. Look forward to more by the author.
Was this review helpful?
This is a book of short stories, all written in the first person, by women. These women give you a peek into their lives. Each story is about a woman at a pivotal point in their exsistence, whether they are aware of it or not. I had difficulty with this book. I felt like I was dropped in, learned a small bit about each woman and then was yanked out of her life, often without situations being resolved. The reader leaves each story with a sense the stories are unfinished and unsettled. 
Thank you to Netgalley for giving me a chance to read an ARC of this book.
Was this review helpful?
Laura van den Berg's collection didn't connect with me. It feels to me as I read that there is a deliberate flat tone at work here, where the narrators of each story are unreflectively reporting events in the voice of a clinically depressed person. I felt held at arms-length. I was never really let into the story. This is extremely artful, yet very careful writing, where the author is trying to recreate the mimetic impression of casual conversation. I kept wanting to say: hey, Laura! Let go a little! Let your narrative voice become ridiculously gothic for a change, or interior, or just, something other than this cool detached voice...this reader at least would love to see this talented writer reach for more and varied ways to tell her stories.
Was this review helpful?
A collection of sometimes intertwined stories, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears is poetic, a book for which slow reading is necessary and worthwhile. Van den Berg's deft writing is for savoring and rereading on the page in order to fully appreciate the craft. The plots, such as they are, are nebulous and unresolved, and the characters equally wispy, their motivations unclear, their specific experiences undetailed to a point of dissatisfaction. But the themes of each piece are powerful and ever-present: violence, homelessness, power; this amalgamation of the concrete and the unsettling is what makes these stories succeed, both individually, and with their occasional linkages.
Was this review helpful?
I’m judging a 2020 fiction contest. It’d be generous to call what I’m doing upon my first cursory glance—reading. I also don’t take this task lightly. As a fellow writer and lover of words and books, I took this position—in hopes of being a good literary citizen. My heart aches for all the writers who have a debut at this time. What I can share now is the thing that held my attention and got this book from the perspective pile into the read further pile. 

Of all the stories I found the title story such a delight with unexpected twists and turns, the language alert and neat. Here’s a great example:

She planned to quit drinking and eating dairy too, but had only managed to stay away from alcohol for two weeks, cheese for a month. She even went to a few meetings for the former and found herself disgusted by all that open, ravenous seeking, by the woman who stood up and spoke about how she believed in the basic goodness of human beings before going on to share that she had been raped while in rehab and that her ex-husband used to beat her with a tire iron.
Was this review helpful?
Not a fan of van den Berg's novels, but her stories are exquisite. On the surface, they serm spare or even simplistic,  but they are far from simplistic.  These are stories of women on the fringes of life,  grappling to navigate a minefield of life occurrences. 
Granted, these stories are not for every reader.  But if you're a reader who likes to be left with nuggets of themes to chew on a bit after reading, then Laura van den Berg is for you!
I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
This is the first book I've read by Laura van den Berg, but it definitely won't be my last.  I am a fan of short stories.  I think it's becoming somewhat of a lost art, which is awful, because short stories have the ability to inspire questions and speculation in a way that longer novels can't, at least in the same way (how many of us were devastated by the Lottery?  A good man is hard to find?  Who else reread Hills Like White Elephants over and over to try to grasp the subtleties and symbols?).  It takes a little more for a reader to read a book of short stories over a novel.  They're jerked from story to story, character to character, location to location, in quick succession.  This is especially true with I Hold a Wolf by the Ears.  The different locations, the variety of situations, the cast of characters all show a wide range for this author, and her writing is also incredibly impressive.  I highly recommend this book.
Was this review helpful?
While I didn’t love her novel, I’ve been a big fan of Laura van den Berg’s short fiction for a couple of years now. I Hold a Wolf by the Ears is no exception to this opinion. The stories in this collection are transfixing, and as someone who lived there for a long time and has complicated nostalgic feelings about the region, I appreciated the New England setting/theme throughout the collection. My favorite of the collection, however, takes place in Mexico City - Karolina is the story of a woman who encounters her ex-sister in law living on the streets of Mexico City after a devastating earthquake, a meeting that forced her to question her beliefs about her beloved brother. Other favorites include Last Night and Lizards. The women in van den Berg’s stories are haunted and complicated, with rich inner dialogues and complex feelings. My only wish for this collection was that it was long. 

Thank you to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this excellent collection in exchange for this review.
Was this review helpful?
I was so quickly drawn into this book that I forgot to take notes on what I was reading.  Suffice it to say I Hold a Wolf is heartbreaking and brilliant and totally original.
Was this review helpful?
If you like your short stories weird this book if for you. They are all interesting but must end with no resolution at all.
Was this review helpful?
These stories all follow women at pivotal points in their lives.  Unlike slice of life short stories, the pivotal variety can be problematic, but these are so well crafted,  they lodge in the mind.   But they are also slippery, and these women, not all of whom are relatable or likeable, are truly original and make for twisty reading.   Usually there are a few entries in collections that lower the experience, making it difficult to complete.  But this is one of those rare cases in which each story is original.  Laura van den Berg has a rich legacy of work, and she's definitely become one of my go-to's.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoyed the author’s 2015 novel, Find Me, but was less enchanted by last year’s The Third Hotel. I requested these stories to give her writing another go. Interestingly, I found it a mixed bag with some writings falling into the suspenseful and taut writing akin to Find Me and others with less cohesion like The Third Hotel. I didn’t really enjoy the whole collection or find it overall satisfying, but there were a few gems in the mix.
Was this review helpful?
When it comes to dark, twisted writing, Laura van den Berg is clearly a master: This book is disturbing and funny, surreal and all-too-real, fearless and terrifying. In eleven short stories, the author illuminates the female experience, highlighting certain aspects and phenomena by giving the texts a surreal edge. While the storylines are often slightly meandering (hello, The Third Hotel), the texts are not build in a traditional manner; rather, they are structured around pivotal incidents and observations that make up the core of the individual stories, and everything else that is happening is grouped around this core. Many themes and motifs appear again and again throughout the whole collection, like doppelgängers, running away/fleeing, killers and their victims, death and loss, toxic masculinity, overpowering natural forces (earthquake, volcano etc.), animals, and family, especially siblings.

The book opens with the sentence: "I want to tell you about the night I got hit by a train and died" - and such well-placed, gripping sentences are an important element of van den Berg's narrative strategy. In the stories, we meet (among others) a woman who, after an earthquake, runs into her beloved brother's ex-wife and learns to accept that he was a perpetrator of domestic violence; there's a young actress who starts a business by offering to impersonate deceased wives for their widowers; a wife is secretly drugged by her husband; a female illustrator paints a surreal ballet troupe comprised of animals behind her furniture (you just have to love this idea!); and a couple confronts the losses of the past while watching their daughter die.

Van den Berg takes her readers to all kinds of places, from Florida to Sicily, Spain, Mexico City, as well as - two of my favorite places in the world that generally do not feature enough in literature - to Minneapolis and Reykjavik. But unlike in Lauren Groff's Florida, for example, the sense of place is not defining for the scenes depicted; rather, the characters are caught up in themselves and roam (often foreign) places, drifting through spaces and psychological states, trying to balance inside and outside world.

I have great admiration for van den Berg's daring poetic concept and her sensibilities for all things strange and weird: She never relies on pure effects (unlike The Dominant Animal: Stories, which is marketed similarly and can't compete at all), there is always subtlety and more than one smart thought buried behind under unsettling ideas. Still, I have to admit that I tend to struggle with meandering textual structures and prefer more stringent compositions - but this is not what van den Berg is intending to do here, and I won't hold my personal taste against her. Maybe it would also have been better to not read the whole thing in two days - the stories need more room to breathe, but I am not one to ration books over longer periods of time.

Van den Berg is one of the most interesting writers around, and while I'm probably not her ideal reader, I absolutely recommend checking out her texts.
Was this review helpful?