February 2, 2021
A modern-day historian finds her life intertwined with Annie Oakley’s in an electrifying novel that explores female revenge and the allure of changing one’s past.
Ruth McClintock is obsessed with Annie Oakley. For nearly a decade, she has been studying the legendary sharpshooter, convinced that a scarring childhood event was the impetus for her crusade to arm every woman in America. This search has cost Ruth her doctorate, a book deal, and her fiancé—but finally it has borne fruit. She has managed to hunt down what may be a journal of Oakley’s midlife struggles, including secret visits to a psychoanalyst and the desire for vengeance against the “Wolves,” or those who have wronged her.
With the help of Reece, a tech-savvy senior at the local high school, Ruth attempts to establish the journal’s provenance, but she’s begun to have jarring out-of-body episodes parallel to Annie’s own lived experiences. As she solves Annie’s mysteries, Ruth confronts her own truths, including the link between her teenage sister’s suicide and an impending tragedy in her Minnesota town that Ruth can still prevent.
I’ve got to be honest with you. Except for authors I love or tropes that I adore, I don’t know what draws me to some books. What words in a blurb raise themselves to mean something in this brain of mine so much that I’d want to read this particular book? Many times that’s not an issue, but for this one, Annie and the Wolves by Andromeda Romano-Lax I actually tried to track down why I wanted to read this book. Did the publisher reach out? (That’s the usual one.) Nope. What was it then about this book with a cover that my eyes can’t always focus on?
THAT was before I read the book. Once I started reading, I decided it was serendipity.
The “Annie” from the title is Annie Oakley to whom I have little connection. I’ve never even seen the musical supposedly (based on the description from the book there seems to be little relation of Annie’s real life to the musical) based on her life, “Annie Get Your Gun.” But Romano-Lax paints a woman who has had a complex life: sold off to be a slave, molested, and then became an old West heroine. Then there was a train crash that seemingly ended everything for her.
A historian, Ruth McClintock became obsessed with Annie Oakley for reasons that aren’t even immediately clear to Ruth. After her car accident on a bridge, Ruth becomes almost reclusive. Her fiancé has become an ex-. She is living day-to-day in a house that her recently dead mother somehow bought too cheaply from the man living next door. And then, someone sends her a journal to review to see if it can be verified as Annie Oakley’s. What may seem to be the opportunity of a lifetime, becomes something far, far different, and yet the same.
With the arrival of the journal, Ruth also encounters Reece, a high school boy who can fix her computer but also one who seems to know her but hasn’t yet met her, or has he? Does the fact that she almost died in a car accident and he survived his suicide attempt mean anything?
Annie and the Wolves is told in several POVs including Annie, Ruth and Reece, and these all work, although, after a while I admit to growing tired of Annie’s chapters. They worked, mind you, but I felt that the real story was occurring in the present with Annie, Reece and the current day characters.
For me, this novel worked so well on so many levels. Romano-Lax provided such a great story filled with tension and action that I was turning pages as fast as I could. The plot ranged from time travel to psychological thriller. And the questions asked. How much can you achieve if you go back in time? What are your limits? What should you do? What happens if you achieve what you want? What happens to you if you enact the revenge you think you should take?
Annie Oakley was sexually abused during her service to couples to whom she was employed. These were the “Wolves,” the ones she wanted to hurt. More than a century later, kids are still being sexually abused and the predator gets away with it. He is asked to retire early, but no one turns him in. Like all sexual predators, his harm is far reaching but seldom inflicted on himself.
Annie and the Wolves is a sleeper hit of a book for me. I didn’t expect much, but it blew me away. Even as all of the pieces came together and I understood what was at risk, what was going to happen, things didn’t turn out that way, but entirely differently, which was a fresh take.
I loved the time travel aspect and loved how Romano-Lax wove this idea through her narrative, even into the Annie Oakley one. (Parts of me really want to read that Annie managed to throw herself through time during the train accident! Nerd alert.)
Annie and the Wolves is oh-so-readable. I highly recommend it if you’re a fan of time travel books, Annie Oakley, and psychological fiction.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
5 out of 5 butterflies