Inside the Wolf

Algonquin. Jul. 2023. 240p. ISBN 9781643752716. $27. F
In Rowland’s second novel (after The Transcriptionist), a transplanted academic finds out the hard way that you can go home again—but at great cost. Rachel Ruskin has had a terrible year: first her brother Garland dies by suicide, then she is denied tenure at her New York-based university for her research into Southern folklore, and finally her parents are killed in a car accident. Rachel returns to her family’s North Carolina tobacco farm, struggling to keep the crop going and revisiting long-held traumas, like when she walked into the woods as a child with her brother, her best friend, and a gun, and only she and Garland walked out. When a similar tragedy befalls a local five-year-old girl, Rachel seeks to break the cycle of gun violence by confronting the myths she has told herself personally and her hometown has told itself for generations. Rowland’s spare but ambitious narrative takes on, with varying success, the South’s tortured legacy of institutional racism and firearms, but she most resonantly captures the essence of a culture—religious, secretive, and distrustful of outsiders—that Rachel has sought to move past but is inextricably bound to.
VERDICT A Southern story that fans of Wiley Cash will devour.
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