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Fridlund ‘didn’t expect’ to land on Man Booker shortlist

Oct 02, 2017 12:31PM ● Published by Editor


By Laurie Hertzel - Associated Press - October 2, 2017

Minnesota native Emily Fridlund had other things on her mind when her editor e-mailed her in late July to say her novel, "History of Wolves," had been longlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

"I was in labor," Fridlund said. The book news didn't really sink in.

But when she was told last week that her novel had made the Booker shortlist, she was all ears.

"It's really exciting," Fridlund said, as 7-week-old Eliot slept nearby. Hours after hearing the news, she still sounded in awe. "It's incredibly humbling. I didn't expect it at all."

It is all the more unexpected, given Fridlund's low profile and the star power of the writers she booted off the longlist: Zadie Smith, Sebastian Barry, Arundhati Roy, Colson Whitehead (whose novel "The Underground Railroad" won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award).

All made way for 38-year-old debut novelist Emily Fridlund, from Edina.

"History of Wolves" is the story of a teenage girl called Linda (or Commie, or Freak — she's a definite outsider) who was raised in a commune in the woods of northern Minnesota. She starts babysitting for a family and gradually realizes that something is not quite right.

"And because of her age and incredible isolation, she doesn't quite know what that is, how it's wrong," Fridlund said. "Her ignorance slips into complicity, allowing terrible things to happen."A HOMECOMING — SORT OF

Fridlund is the second of three children. She grew up in Edina next door to the house her grandfather built, and her family traveled up the North Shore for vacations. She never meant to move away, but college happened — first St. Olaf in Northfield, then Principia College in Illinois, where she earned a bachelor's degree. She earned an MFA in fiction at Washington University in St. Louis, and a doctorate at the University of Southern California. "Lots of school," she said with a small sigh.

It was while she was in California that she began writing "Wolves." It was wintertime, and she was missing the snowy North Woods.

"I wanted to be in that place," she said. "The first chapter was initially a short story, and then as I began to move around, this invented little town kind of stayed with me, and I found myself going back to it."

Fridlund, who now lives in New York state, traveled to northern Minnesota for research, but "it was also important to me that it was invented — a place that was sort of a combination of memories and research, but also invention."

EYES ON THE PRIZE

The Man Booker Prize is one of the world's biggest awards for writers in English, carrying a prize of 50,000 British pounds (about $68,000). For years, it was open only to novelists in Ireland, South Africa and the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth, but in 2014, it was opened up to all English-language fiction writers.

In 2015, St. Paul writer Marlon James, a Jamaican, won for "A Brief History of Seven Killings." In 2016, American writer Paul Beatty won for "The Sellout." This year three of the six finalists are Americans.

Fridlund, her husband, and baby Eliot will head to England in early October for a week of events leading up to the awards ceremony.

"I just got used to going to the coffee shop" since the baby's birth, she said. "And now I'll be traveling to London."

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