Review: Annie and the Wolves

Annie and the Wolves by Andromeda Romano-Lax
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Annie Oakley, born Phoebe Ann Mosey, is an American icon. A sharpshooter who toured the US and Europe along with her husband Frank Butler in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, Annie's early life was marred with physical abuse and neglect and what may have been child sexual abuse when she was "bound out" to work for families in her community at the age of nine. Whatever happened to her affected her for the rest of her life, and likely informed her thoughts that all women should be armed and know how to defend themselves against these "wolves" with a gun. In some ways, Oakley was the inception of a sort of gun culture among women. Nowadays we might be more interested in the "me, too" aspects of Annie's life, and how abuses that girls and women endured were minimized and denied. Her fascinating life is in part the subject of this novel, but it is a life seen, processed, endlessly reviewed by Ruth McClintock, a historian obsessed with Oakley's life. Ruth lost her chance at a doctorate, at a "serious" academic life and appointment, as a result of her obsession. When she learns of letters purportedly written to an Austrian analyst by Oakley in the early 1900's, she is stunned to find them written in Oakley's handwriting, and that they seem to detail events surrounding a train accident in 1901 that spelled financial disaster for her traveling show, and which spurred thoughts of revisiting the past in order to change the future. Ruth is hooked, in no small part because of her desperate guilt over the suicide of her younger sister Kennidy, who was also a victim of sexual abuse.

This sprawling and often fascinating novel looks at causality, changing the past, the future, the evolving state of women's rights, the culture of silence surrounding child physical and sexual abuse, and child neglect. Romano-Lax manages to pull off this complex switching between past and present, and even multiple concurrent timelines in the past, in spite of little detail about how the time travel actually works, beyond seeming to begin with brain trauma. Ruth and Annie fragment themselves by stepping back and forth between past and present, trying to find justice for themselves or their loved ones, seeking vengeance against the wolves that prey on young people.

This novel- complex, layered, and thought-provoking- is not quite historical fiction and not quite science fiction. It's a genre-bending memorable read.

The audiobook is affectingly narrated by Elizabeth Wiley.

CW: child abuse, child sexual abuse, threats of violence, physical violence

I received a digital review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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