WOLF POINT by Edward Falco is a far larger and deeper novel than its relatively small size --- 234 pages --- would immediately portend. This is no reflection on the narrative, which clips right along at a pace that leaves readers gasping for breath, implicitly daring them to stop reading. The events, which for the most part take place over a couple of fateful days but resonate backward and forward in time, linger long after the last paragraph is read.
Reading WOLF POINT is akin to discovering an unpublished, collaborative manuscript created by John Cheever and Jim Thompson. The narrative opens with Tom Walker ("...my friends and family call me 'T'..."), a 57-year-old businessman, picking up a much younger man and woman who are hitchhiking outside of Syracuse, NY. There is an immediate sense that all is not right; indeed this is communicated to the reader by Walker himself, who knows better than to stop --- which, in the words of the narrative, is precisely why he does. The hitchhikers are Lester and Jenny, who introduce themselves as brother and sister initially but who are far more, and less, than that. In reality Lester and Jenny are on a panicked run, the reason for which may be remedied by the application of a large amount of cash.
And it turns out that Walker has plenty of that. The trio heads for a small community called Thousand Islands, a place that has significant meaning for each of them. One expects the situation to inevitably spiral downward, and it does, almost from the moment that Walker opens his door --- and his life --- to Lester and Jenny. Each and every principal here is carrying baggage. Still recovering from a divorce, Walker is unable to fathom the whys and wherefores of what has happened in his life, or that he is to blame for at least part of what has occurred. Lester is an edgy loser; whatever potential he might have had has been derailed, perhaps permanently, by drugs. Jenny is badly damaged and is ready to do damage in kind, at times without even knowing it. Before the story's conclusion, three lives will be brutally changed in a process of rough catharsis and, in one case, redemption paid with dear coin.
WOLF POINT is a haunting work, a cautionary tale that by turns demonstrates that while no deed --- good or evil --- goes unpunished, absolution and redemption are possible if one is willing to pay the price. This is a work to be savored and, more importantly, reread. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2011