The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe

September 7th, 2019

It was fun to read The Wolves after the last two books I read, because it felt like there were some commonalities, while all three are also very different works. Each act of The Wolves is set at an indoor soccer field, where we see a team of teenage girls warming up before their weekly Saturday games, which reminded me of the structure of Nick Hornby’s State of the Union and the way each chapter shows the same couple having drinks at a pub before their weekly counseling session. And like Halle Butler’s The New Me, though less bleakly/less cynically, The Wolves is all about female interactions: all the men in the play (the coach, characters’ brothers or boyfriends or fathers) are all off-stage. That’s where the similarities end, but I found them satisfying nonetheless.

I’d love to see a production of The Wolves and am sad I missed it when it played in New York in 2016 and in 2017: it was an enjoyable read, but I imagine it would really come to life on stage. In the script, the characters are referred to as their jersey numbers: we don’t learn any of their names until nearly the end, and there are several characters whose names we don’t learn at all. Some of the characters are very distinctive, but I had trouble keeping a few of them straight. The dialogue, though, is great: I love how we get the girls’ overlapping conversations, which contain everything from talk about world affairs to discussions of tampons to trash talk and insults to tensions between friends. They talk about their sorry excuse for a coach, who always seems to be hung-over, and how the boys’ team has a much better coach; they talk about the Khmer Rouge and Lord of the Rings and what they’re learning in school. Most of the team members have been playing together for years, but there’s one home-schooled new girl, who struggles to know how to be social/how to join this group of girls who have all known each other for ages, who have all these shared jokes and memories that she doesn’t know about. Pauses and silences and awkward moments are vividly rendered, too, and I like the way we get to know these characters and the many things going on in their lives, even though we only ever see them in their weekly time together on the AstroTurf before the game.

I wasn’t necessarily planning to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child—I mean, I like the Harry Potter universe and I’ve read all the books but, eh, a play written by someone other than J.K. Rowling, based on a story that she co-wrote with him and another guy? I don’t know; I wasn’t convinced I’d be into it. But then my boyfriend borrowed it from a friend, and then, after he finished it, it somehow ended up on the top of my pile of books to read. And while there are things I didn’t like about it, I’m totally glad I read it.

A thing you should know about this play is that it’s quite plot-heavy, and I’m not sure how much I can actually say about the plot without giving away too much. It’s set 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts and it focuses partly on one of Harry’s kids, Albus Severus, who’s about to start his first year at Hogwarts when the play opens. Albus ends up being friends with Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, and adventures ensue. Scorpius, for me, was the best thing about this play: he’s smart and charming and brave and kind and my only problem with his friendship with Albus is that it’s not more than a friendship. (Maybe I should just go re-read Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On?)

This was a really quick read and I was totally engrossed in it while reading, despite a few clunky/overwrought pieces of dialogue and some quibbles about characterization (Ron Weasley in particular, who felt much flatter than I think he should have, aside from a few choice moments in climactic scenes).

Reading Proof, I thought of Rebecca Goldstein’s Properties of Light, though I don’t remember enough about the latter to properly compare the two works. Both share a similar central triangle: brilliant/mad father (a physicist in Goldstein’s book, a mathematician in Auburn’s play), brilliant/possibly unhinged daughter, plus a (male) student of the father’s who is the daughter’s lover as well. It’s the love/desire part of Proof that I found most satisfying, rather than the mathematics (which there isn’t really that much of ) or the family drama (which, on the page anyhow, seemed shrill and obvious).

I like the lucidity of Carson’s prose, the framing essays around these plays, and the prefaces to each one: the sense of knowledge and ease and also a sly smile when she writes things like “The first eight hundred lines of the play will bore you, they’re supposed to.” The four plays: Herakles, Hekabe, Hippolytos, Alkestis: Herakles and his madness, Hekabe and her rage, Hippolytos and his prudishness, the riddle of Alkestis. Carson’s language is minimalist, never forced: “God found a way/to be surprising./That’s how this went.”