The sisters had come most recently from wooded, green, and rainy Pennsylvania. Before that they'd lived in the Everglades, on an island off the Carolina coast, on the English moors, at the northern edge of the Black Forest, high and deep in the Carpathian Mountains (a-ha!)
The two clans have somewhat reluctantly come together at the novel's beginning on a full-moon night for the initiation of teenage Deborah, Mary's great-granddaughter. You might, as you begin reading, want to sketch a quick family tree of who's-who on a handy bookmark, for the litany of names can be numbing in its biblical simplicity: Mary, mother of Ruth, Ruth mother of Lydia, Lydia mother of Deborah. Then there are siblings and cousins. And teenage Deborah, pregnant and stubborn, rejects the initiation of wolf skin and escapes the house, leaving her relatives in a state of snipping, snapping frustration. The ancient grandmothers Mary and Hannah will not sit for it.
Anger. Wildness. Anger in the streets. Anger in the veins... anger pooling in the bedrooms, kitchens, hallways, stairways, cellars, attics, closets where people lived and loved and where they died... never enough anger. Never enough blood. Even though the world reeked of it... Little girls choked with chocolate cake they'd tasted without permission... little boys held in scalding bathwater for messing their pants again.
Wilding, the ravening for transformation...
Finnish edition, 1994
Meanwhile, Lydia is beside herself with concern over her runaway daughter, even though her feelings towards Deborah are deeply ambivalent: She had never known how to take care of her. Lydia still mourns the death of her other children, in infancy, and the fate of newborn boys to any member of this wolf clan is absolute. She works in a drab office and a coworker, Pam, like Julian, offers sympathy and friendship, yet unlike Julian, perhaps something more. Yes, something more. The fate of this good coworker is... absolute, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes of horror I've yet read.
There is more, much more to Wilding. Emotional rawness, memories of beloved men and boys and normal lives thwarted, of unbearable tension between generations of powerful women who can barely fathom their own minds much less their relatives'. The final chapter reveals the dim history of this werewolf clan (The man stopped screaming when he heard the werewolf speak). Tem is unconcerned with presenting a traditional novel of horror: there are no wolf-hunters armed with silver bullets on the women's trail, no grizzled Kolchak investigating mauled remains found in a city park, no despair by a woman who wants to rid herself of the wolf curse. Why, it wouldn't be an Abyss book if there were! In all these ways Wilding is the quintessential Abyss title.
Wilding is often a state of mind rather than a exact rendering of the real and the true. Using a minimum of dialogue, Tem offers dense paragraphs of inner turmoil, anxiety, and doubt: in going after psychological truths, the story can slow to a crawl. But it's an illuminating crawl: Tem's perceptive insights into the characters' human nature are the real draw here. Don't worry, there's plenty of gory werewolf action—it's threaded through a curtain of heartfelt humanity, but it's there. Hearts are eaten, hearts are broken, hearts survive. Werewolves or no, family is family.
She could still feel the breath, still taste fresh kill, still hear the sounds of her grandmother saying her name. Blood instead of breath. Rage instead of love. Love.