The central mystery in The Wolf Hunt, the fifth novel by Israeli writer Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, unveils itself in the first paragraph. A boy, Jamal Jones, has died. Adam, the protagonist’s son, is suspected of his murder. His mother Lilach doesn’t believe her beloved child could be capable of such violence. But who would trust a mother’s opinion of her own son? As one character in this propulsive, unexpected novel says, “The greatest mystery in people’s lives is their children.”
The novel tosses the reader directly into violence and mayhem, beginning with a terrorist attack. Paul Reed, a Black man, walks into a Reform synagogue in Silicon Valley with a machete and kills a young white Jewish congregant. Lilach, terrified that her passive, meek child could be next, enrolls him in a self-defense class taught by a former Israeli commando. But when Jamal dies at a house party, Adam, who has just started coming out of his shell, is suspected of poisoning him. These individual confrontations between white Jewish Americans and Black Americans instantly take on a larger significance. Are Jews unsafe in a country awash with antisemitic conspiracy? Can Black people survive hostile, white spaces?
In the face of these pat media narratives, Lilach tries to uncover the truth, a task much more slippery than she anticipates. Characters are rendered gradually and subjectively through Lilach’s narration, which meanders from past to present and back again. Lilach wants to know Adam, but she also shrinks from him, afraid. And she, like her son, is lonely. Not quite an American, yet no longer fully Israeli, she is adrift between worlds. This book is as much a meditation on immigrant dislocation as it is on American racial conflict. Lilach has escaped “Israeli insanity,” only to find herself at the center of American insanity — an insanity she has to participate in, but, as an outsider, will never fully understand.
The Wolf Hunt is a smart book that shies away from easy answers. Teens Jamal and Adam come into focus and then blur again, refusing to be pinned down. In one moment, they are loving, and the next, vicious. Is the tension between them the result of prejudice, or is something more intimate, something stranger, going on?
As this tense novel hurtles to its conclusion, unexpected twists and turns arise. The reader’s understanding of what has come before is flipped on its head. Gundar-Goshen is a precise writer, whose attention to detail breathes life into her characters. In her world, much like in our own, we know only what people tell us, if we’re brave enough to ask.
Chloe Cheimets is a student in The New School’s MFA fiction program.