The terrain of Van den Berg’s difficult, beautiful and urgent new book, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, is an ecosystem of weird and stirring places you’ll want to revisit, reconsider, maybe even take shelter in. It’s easy to get going, because Van den Berg is such a master of setups ... Possessing some of Karen Russell’s spookiness and Otessa Moshfegh’s penchant for unsettling observations about the way we live now—personally incisive but alive with a kind of ambient political intelligence—Van den Berg feels like the writer we not only want but maybe need right now ... There is range here, particularly in characters and relationships: single people, mothers and daughters, loners, but also people engaged in the long dance of marriage ... Van den Berg is so consistently smart and kind, bracingly honest, keen about mental illness and crushing about everything from aging to evil that you might not be deluded in hoping that the usual order of literary fame could be reversed: that an author with respectable acclaim for her novels might earn wider recognition for a sneakily brilliant collection of stories.
Exquisite. It took a decade of writing book reviews to get here, but here we are — I've used 'exquisite.' The stories in Laura van den Berg's I Hold a Wolf by the Ears are exquisite. They're tiny, uncanny morsels about broken women and mysterious things that possess a literary umami that falls somewhere between horror, literary fiction, mystery, drama, and social critique. They deal with death and loss, with isolation and falling in love with the wrong person. They are unsettling and bizarre, coming at you from weird angles to hit you in unexpected ways like the well-trained fists of a professional boxer ... Varying in length and tone, the tales in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears share a sense of urgency and sadness that helps the collection cohere. The urgency comes from the frenetic pace, the economy of language that makes every line feel necessary and meaningful. And when I say sadness, I mean it ... If urgency and sadness are the main elements here, then strangeness is the glue Van den Berg uses to bond them together ... Despite the strength of these elements, the stories in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears do much more than scare, unsettle, entertain, and, in a way, hurt. The writing here gets at the core of the human experience and forces you to look at the darkness therein. We are flawed and we suffer, and Van den Berg shines when writing about those things. Her words cut to the bone, completely devoid of any cushioning that would make the experience less harsh. She knows you've loved the wrong person. She knows you still fear the dark. She knows death can be awful for those left behind. She knows you think you're not as awful as some other people ... Van den Berg's writing gets under your skin and stays there, making you wonder why you feel uneasy, why you believe ghosts can be photographed and people can climb up tress and vanish forever...Her words are poetry ... Yes, these stories will hurt you like a skilled boxer, but they'll make you realize you're a bit of a masochist if Van den Berg's the one hurting you.
... includes a few smart touches of metafiction, as the teacher of stories comments on the one she’s telling. On top of that—check out those verbs! 'Wept' and 'eavesdropped' throw off fresh glimmers, given the spin van den Berg puts on them ... A similar richness of reading pleasures brims in every one of these 11 tales ... offers the greatest distillation of [van den Ber's] talents to date. To pick a best story is beyond me; now I favor 'Volcano House,' now 'Karolina,' and now the closer, also the title piece ... The voice is just part of the excitement, with its pyrotechnic verbs ... Eye-popping description, however, is far from the only form of liveliness in these narratives ... magic often flits around the edges of Hold a Wolf, yet I count only two stories which entail something truly surreal.
... as in any Van den Berg story, the circumstances are dire without ever falling into the melodramatic. Rather, contemporary existence is dire. What lesser writers might hold up as bitingly satirical, like a man whose job is waiting in line for people to acquire a new electronic or bespoke cronut, Van den Berg presents as a matter of course. The world does not need her narration to invoke a despairing chuckle. Absurdity goes unremarked upon, because it’s the order of the day, and she has much more interesting things to say ... Fans of Van den Berg’s last novel, The Third Hotel, will find comfort (if anything in Van den Berg’s work can be considered comfortable) in stories like 'The Pitch' where the narrator confronts her husband about the other boy in a childhood picture. The story is a masterclass in suspense ... Van den Berg is not the only writer to make this move, but she is damn good at it. We suspend our disbelief to enter the story, we forget, our disbelief rendered invisible until we are explicitly reminded of it, then proceeding with caution—we won’t get fooled again—we suspend our disbelief once more, and somehow come out the other side believing in the story wholeheartedly. The trick is not making readers feel like they’ve been had, but for the story to confirm something they have perhaps long suspected: that things are as strange as they seem ... Above all, Van den Berg is a writer of wonderous understatement. Her stories end with readers feeling they have Wile E Coyote’d their way off a cliff and are only now realizing there is no ground left beneath them. Van den Berg’s introspective narration assures she is falling with us and is just as scared to find out where we are going to land—if we are going to survive.
... an excellent...unsettling short story collection, I Hold A Wolf by the Ears...grabs readers by the hand and leads them through stories of sisterhood, abandonment, natural disaster, and the hatred and horror that lie at the center of a society that is stacked against women ... Many of the stories dredge up the worms wiggling around under the rock of relationships between men and women, with women under near-constant threat ... One of the joys of the collection is the way van den Berg will pull a half-dozen disparate threads into a single story, and allow them to play off each other, without ever trying to tie them up too neatly ... van den Berg’s language is equal parts delightful and fucked up ... Florida is a character in this book. It was fun for me as a Floridian to track the movement of heat, lizards, water, thunderstorms, and to watch as character after character settle briefly into anonymous apartment complexes and temporary jobs. Refreshing to watch as van den Berg poked at different types of tourism, looking at the ways an economy built on pleasing people you sort of hate can warp your experience of home ... Van den Berg’s characters all tell their stories to you, like you’re a friend sitting with them in the bar car, landscape sliding along outside the window ignored as we lean in so no one else will hear.
All of the stories in this book explore relationships in a strikingly unconventional way. It’s impossible to ignore van den Berg’s attention to the intricacies of sisterhood, in particular, and the way that she sets up these sister relationships ... Van den Berg’s detached writing might strike some as cold. There aren’t many overtly touching moments in any of the stories, and it seems like van den Berg keeps her characters at arms-length, perhaps overcautious against sentimentality. I don’t think she cares about her readers forming an opinion on her characters or the subject matter; she’s not a needy author. But the characters in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears are so odd, their desires so universal, that they endear to us anyway ... The writing is beautiful and the stories are some of the most peculiar I’ve ever read ... the collection isn’t 'urgent and unsettling' so much as it is touched with grief and loneliness and weirdness, and even the shortest stories feel well-paced. This isn’t the kind of book that should be described as something that we, as a society, need at this time to poignantly sum up all the universal cultural oddities that we’re experiencing right now. It’s not here to try and heal our collective Trump-induced trauma. But spending time reading something this bizarre and captivating encourages you to see the world in a necessary, fascinating way, and a little healing might be a side effect.
... excellent ... grabs readers by the hand and leads them through stories of sisterhood, abandonment, natural disaster, and the hatred and horror that lie at the center of a society that is stacked against women ... One of the joys of the collection is the way van den Berg will pull a half-dozen disparate threads into a single story, and allow them to play off each other, without ever trying to tie them up too neatly ... van den Berg’s language is equal parts delightful and fucked up ... It was fun for me as a Floridian to track the movement of heat, lizards, water, thunderstorms, and to watch as character after character settle briefly into anonymous apartment complexes and temporary jobs. Refreshing to watch as van den Berg poked at different types of tourism, looking at the ways an economy built on pleasing people you sort of hate can warp your experience of home ... One of the most resonant themes of the collection is time and its meaninglessness—or maybe it’s better to say its constructed-ness?—which is a particularly perfect thing to explore now ... Van den Berg’s characters all tell their stories to you, like you’re a friend sitting with them in the bar car, landscape sliding along outside the window ignored as we lean in so no one else will hear. These stories are jagged, we open a door and we’re in them, living them; when the door clicks shuts a few pages later there is no doubt that the story is still playing out on the other side.
... the shapes of these stories are more astonishing and diffuse, feeling less like constructed artwork and closer to found objects. There’s a freedom in these stories, the sense that the story doesn’t belong only to the apparent protagonist. Instead, in each story in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, lives unfold unseen, and their pointed absence, their seemingly peripheral nature, the way in which devastating emotions occur offstage yet retain weight, endows the stories with an edgy, unsettling quality. Their strange power grows out of a bold refusal to decipher or assign an explanation to the pieces that are missing. Paradoxically, in the refusal of explanation, what never happened or what might have happened in a different way gains as much importance as what does, simply through allusions to what is sensory and tangible ... Language itself is used to shake the reader, to take these stories beyond any sort of prefabricated shape into a more dangerous realm of ghosts and intangible dangers. There are gaps and jumps in the language, flexible places where a reader can creep in and imaginatively develop their own beliefs about what happened. The text of I Hold a Wolf by the Ears feels more flexible than in van den Berg’s prior books, with the notable exception of The Third Hotel, which also plunges into grief, its reality along with its unmooring surrealism. Are we haunted by these stories or are we, as readers, haunting them? ... Yet, a subtly biting humor and irony threads through the collection, complicating and knifing through what might be taken as tragedy ... Van den Berg exploits the tension between what is experienced and what emotions can make us believe to astonishing effects ... Van den Berg is one of our most ingenious bards of the unsayable. I Hold a Wolf by the Ears carries forward the DNA of her other books, but it’s her best yet. With this collection, she invents a grammar to reconstitute the unease that flows beneath the surfaces of ordinary, mundane America — the exquisitely off-kilter, the ghost in the mirror.
... a series of melancholy meditations on death, grief and travel ... Van den Berg’s characters often challenge the accuracy of memory as well as of seemingly objective matters ... All of the work has a dangerous, eerie charge ... This is one of van den Berg’s strengths: The mundane becomes swiftly, surprisingly, sinister.
In I Hold A Wolf by the Ears, [...] supernatural events and the intrusion of paranoia are anchored in her sparse, expressive style. The women in these stories grapple with layers of identity, embedded in untold narratives and the grim prospect of the 'big alone.' We are introduced to them as their worlds begin to lurch beyond their control and their narrative identities begin to crumble. They face metaphysical horror, see ghosts, sneak around at night taking pictures, or, in one case, drive right up to the crater of a volcano. Couples struggle against the context of a global social reckoning, revealing themselves under the pressure.I Hold A Wolf by the Ears is just the latest example of the way in which van den Berg demonstrates that she is a master of her craft. Her opening lines are beguiling and irresistible, and the endings, while not necessarily happily-ever-afters, land with resounding portent. She is a sentence-level writer with a style truly her own, characterized by lean, yet muscular sentences and expert pace control. With commentary on the dehumanizing gig economy, the effects of the #MeToo news cycle on couples, and the hallucinatory effects of grief, the reader feels embedded and directly involved in the uncanny realms in which these characters live.
In this exquisite collection of 11 stories, writer Laura van den Berg gives voices to unsteady women lurking in their own shadows ... With mouthwatering sensory details, along with van den Berg’s ability to distort events that may or may not have happened, readers will get sucked in to the lives of these characters ... The hyperawareness of these characters will haunt readers as well as keep them invested in the lives of these fictional misfits long after they’ve moved on to the next story. With a controlled and transcendent writing style, van den Berg has most certainly established herself as a writer ahead of her time.
he katabatic short stories in Laura van den Berg’s new collection, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, are haloed by a certain hypnotic aura. With a perfect ten for technique, the primarily first-person narration — with an occasional close third — maintains a constant narrative distance, a not-quite-intimacy you might feel watching, say, Cleo from 5 to 7. Though the stories are not linked, they belong to the same universe, in the way of comic superhero stories. And the world van den Berg has built is one of ghosts, of absurdity, of life at the edge of horror ... van den Berg’s collection is a rejection of the absurd. It is a conscious meditation on meaning-making, on the ways women, faced with the obliterating violence of patriarchy, assert agency, tell their own stories. Van den Berg shows a world in which women, though they may at any moment be shot, kidnapped, drugged, or driven to suicide, persist nevertheless.
The 11 stories that make up Laura van den Berg’s new collection, I Hold a Wolf by the Ears, may have been written over the last several years, but they feel very much of the now ... several of the stories in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears have an absurdist aesthetic (I compared van den Berg to David Lynch and I stand by that remark) ... The stories in I Hold a Wolf by the Ears showcase van den Berg’s ability to dig deep into the interior lives of her female characters, to explore their doubts, their anxieties, and their anger as they confront a world that makes little sense ... it’s very much in keeping with 2020.
Laura van den Berg...leads her characters into bizarre and life-changing situations--all the more powerful for their underlying emotional resonance--in her thrilling and uncanny collection of stories ... The surreal permeates these stories in masterful fashion, as if each narrative, grounded in the real, slowly slips into the fantastical ... not only a testament to the power of the short story, but to how, cumulatively, a collection can sustain an entire ethos and atmosphere. Van den Berg is a maestro of the form, and these stories shouldn't be missed.
... a richly imaginative collection that skillfully exposes vulnerable women to grief, messy relationships, misogyny, and prejudices, while equipping them with a fiery tenacity ... In these 11 perceptive stories, Van den Berg displays her literary talents with acerbic acumen as she portrays indelible characters brimming with verve that is hungry and wild.
... van den Berg mines the broad overlap among loss, defeat, and horror with a deft touch, backlit by the unsettling effects of travel, natural disasters, death, and that thin membrane between the supernatural and the simply strange. The ghosts in her stories are her narrators' better, unachieved selves, the dread embodied in the realization of how easy it is to miss life's transitions from before to after ... These well-crafted and intelligent stories about the many ways a life can be haunted will gratify readers who enjoy perceptive, slightly gothic tales.
In van den Berg’s startling, precise collection...a series of women are haunted by various disturbances ... the women in van den Berg’s stories often succumb to self-erasure or are erased by others. Van den Berg maintains an unsettling tone throughout these darkly imagined tales. This collection shows the author at her best.
All 11 stories here are sharp as they are haunting; in this world—maybe like the real one—nothing is exactly what it seems ... stories have a darkly surreal edge, like sweaty, hyper-realistic nightmares ... The stories here, vibrating with loss, but wickedly funny, are a distinctly van den Berg–ian hybrid, as biting as they are dreamy. Witty, painful, and thoroughly unsettling.