Begun as a response to a front page photograph illustrating a tragedy that the media quickly sensationalized in the early 2000’s, Wolf tells the composite truth of two brothers, a family friend, a father, and a murder. Skeptical of news cycles and the way trials become page-turners, this book forgoes the standards of true crime: quick conclusions and moralistic underpinnings. Instead, motivated by an attempt to extend empathy, its reconstruction unfolds in tones of witness and meditation. What results is a story about the extremities to which deeply unchecked abuse and ongoing trauma can push a family.
This heartbreaking story of patricide will move readers with its startling notes of empathy.
Employing muscular, wide-open prose and deep, dark empathy, Martin succeeds in doing this exactly here: compels us to contend with an everything. Wolf works by struggle and resistance.
A unique and mesmerizing journey unlike anything I have read, Wolf is a story of family, trauma, sexuality, and murder. The novel is based on a true crime, but the recreation of evidence into an easily digestible narrative is resisted. Instead, the writer pushes poetic prose to new heights while producing an attuned sense of empathy for characters in unthinkable circumstances. Author Tiphanie Yanique says of the novel, ‘Wolf is a horror story, a love story, story of survival, of parenting and of coming of age. It manages to be so many contradictory things by a-newly creating the English language—by making a brand new English that is both alienating and intimate. It is a marvel.’ I had the privilege to study with Douglas A. Martin at Wesleyan University, where he currently teaches, and to conduct this interview with him over email.
PS: So do you think people who enjoy Wolf will also enjoy Outline Of My Lover, and vice versa?
DAM: I would say they throw each other into increased light… both books have at their center a desperation given the units we are meant to exist within. Both attempt to move to what one or another party is taking for love or other ends.
Spencer Quong: The word “boy” appears everywhere in the story, usually to refer to the two brothers, but the narrative also slips into a more general voice, where “a boy” can be any boy. How did your understanding of what it means to be a boy shift in the writing of this story? What does it mean to be a boy in a story/world in which men commit such extreme acts of violence?
MARTIN: That is a guiding question for me. I have long loved Gertrude Stein’s formulation, What’s the use of being a boy if you are going to grow up to be a man? When I came across it, this spoke to me because it was during the first years I had begun doing a couple of things. One was to consider maybe I could be a boy—I had never felt like one growing up though I was told I was one. But also, I was engaged in understanding how, in some of my earlier formative relationships, with these mentors I would have because of their artistry, there were aspects of me that were surely just that for them, boy. It made my loneliness make sense.
Wolf utterly blew me away. It’s a novel told in poetic, yet conversational vignettes, that focuses on gender, masculinity, boyhood, and home. What is a home and how do we create safe homes for ourselves? And more so, how do we become our true selves, and not the selves society wants us to be – and falsely constructs? These are the questions the novel asks, as it tells the story of a family (specifically of a father and two brothers) and a murder – and how we live in a world of violence.
Wolf, though never explicitly abolitionist, is anti-true crime because it presents a world where externally-imposed justice was never an option.
What is a loss? Wolf follows the loss of security, safety, a family dissolves in front of us, so translucent we cannot see what is in front of us fully. I listen as the contents of the novel are described. That happened? That’s what this book is about? I think. How can that happen? How can it be? All loss is continual and difficult if not impossible to trace in public. The writer disappears in the text.