January 27, 2020

Neda Disney: "Planting Wolves"

Title: Planting Wolves  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Neda Disney [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2019
Age: 18+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Interesting format (six interconnected stories whose links to one another are not immediately apparent, but ultimately form a bigger picture). Accessible but well-crafted writing.
Cons: Unlikeable/flawed characters (though that's pretty much the point). Lack of closure (same).
WARNING! One of the stories contains racism and fat-shaming.
Will appeal to: Those who don't necessarily need all the answers. Those who don't mind reading about people they couldn't be friends with in real life. 

Blurb: A writer in a purgatory bar, an art collecting housewife who time travels, a movie Production Assistant with stigmata, a codependent AA sponsor, a sex addict, a movie star with issues, a two-time liver transplant recipient and an abusive TV costumer who gets what’s coming to her. All connected to one another but completely and utterly alone. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley. Thanks to Tandem Books and Xpresso Reads for providing an ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.


To be honest, the thing that appealed to me about Planting Wolves in the first place was the magical realism angle...but it turned out to be less prominent than I expected. Some of the far-out things that certain characters experience - and forgive me if I can't elaborate further, because I don't want to spoil the book for you - aren't necessarily ambiguous enough to keep a foot in magical realism, though they are all, indeed, filtered through a surreal lens. I did, however, enjoy both the writing and the clever format: six seemingly separated tales whose main characters pop up (always unexpectedly) in what is, for all purpose, someone else's story. Some times these featurings provide us with insight about a character's past or future; other times they simply bring us a different perspective about the same situation. This creates a lively, engaging reading experience, punctuated by those little (or big) "haha!" moments that, in my case, make all the difference between going over a series of separated short stories and a combination of the same. [...]


Let's get it out of the way: the characters in Planting Wolves (except for Rodney) aren't particularly likeable, and most of the times, that's an understatement. The fact is, they're not supposed to be. They nurture their loneliness, if for different reasons, or hurt other people trying to achieve their goals, and the only redeeming thing about them is that, in some cases (Mrs. Randall), they're just trying to find their place in the world by pushing back at the boundaries that have been imposed on them. Despite their determination to achieve the things they want, and their lives often intertwining - or at least brushing - they all seem both uprooted and incapable to reach out to one another (or to anyone), and ultimately, even to get in touch with themselves. This ties in with the "planting wolves" metaphor from the title, which is explained in one of the stories: in order to repopulate a certain Alaskan place with them, two couples of wolves got released in a controlled environment, except their offspring ended up turning on one another and perishing altogether.


If you're the kind of reader who cherishes a neat ending, you might have some difficulties with this collection. Some of the characters (like the Writer) get closure in someone else's story; but most of them remain in a sort of suspended animation, and you either have to imagine your own ending, or to draw a moral from the story as it is - unless you choose to simply see Planting Wolves as a tableau of human misery caused by the absence of compassion (and/or self-compassion). Sometimes a single character seems to have more than one history, because we follow them in different timelines and/or through the eyes of different people (Nelly) or we are told apparently conflicting stories about them, though they are supposed to be set in the same time frame (Mrs. Randall). Is it a product of magical realism, or of a prismatic outlook on the human existence? Is it a way to state that our life, just like Doctor Who's TARDIS, is bigger on the inside? Whatever the answer, this book is meant to make you think, and for that alone (well, that and the mature, quotable prose) is definitely worth a few rereads.

For quotes from this book click here.
For more Adult books click here.


  1. The concept of separate yet intertwining stories reminds me of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, only it seems as if Planting Wolves has more of those great cross-over moments where the stories start to make sense as a unit which I felt was missing from Cloud Atlas. This sort of idea has always intrigued me though and I would love to see it done well, and it sounds as if you think Neda Disney was able to pull it off.

    1. It is done well here, though sometimes the connections among the stories are fleeting, so don't expect this grand panorama built from smaller views.


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