Mom always said you were a wild child.
Feral, she said. Uncivilized. The kind of kid for whom a layer of dirt was a second skin, the kid who hated anything resembling soap. As in the new novel, “The Wild Inside” by Jamey Bradbury, you reveled in your animal side.
Tracy Sue Petrikoff’s mother always said Tracy was born hungry.
Seventeen-year-old Tracy often thought of that, of her mother and her accidental death on a ropy Alaska road, two years prior. Tracy thought about it while she ran, and while she was away in the woods, which were like home. She knew the trees there, where to hunt, trap, where to find food and shelter, how to keep warm, how to stay absolutely still so she could almost hear an animal think.
She learned to listen, but she didn’t hear the man who attacked her in the woods.
She’d had her knife along, and she’d defended herself but he tossed her aside and she’d hit her head, blacking out. Later, she’d made her way home, but she knew couldn’t tell her father; he would worry, and insist that she steer clear of her woods.
And that wasn’t going to happen, even when the man staggered out of the trees, holding his belly, covered in blood. Tracy’s dad leaped to help and the man, Tom Hatch, would be okay at a hospital in Fairbanks but Tracy wondered if Hatch might come back to get his revenge. She was not going to steer clear of the woods even then, because two or three days away from her woods made her sick. Physically sick.
And so, she kept her secret about Tom Hatch, just as others kept their silences: her Dad, on the woman he was seeing; her brother, on school bullies; and the teenage boy, Jesse Goodwin, who’d come from the woods looking for a job and a place to stay.
Jesse, as Tracy suspected, wasn’t who or what he said he was.
And Tom Hatch still was alive.
From the get-go, you’ll know “The Wild Inside” is no ordinary novel.
The first thing you’ll notice is author Jamey Bradbury’s Tracy speaks in a voice that rarely comes from sharp novels like this one: her grammar is lacking, which instantly lends realism to a story that becomes squirmy, even vile in a tauntingly slow manner. Where that eventually leads makes sense or no sense, perhaps because you’ll be distracted by a snowy setting that’s beautiful but chilling in more ways than one; still, because of that eerily-calm voice and because of her self-realization, all plotlines lead back to Tracy, who’s down-to-earth and hard to dislike.
As the misty plot starts to roil and you begin to realize what’s really going on, though, don’t be too harsh on yourself if you second-guess that fondness …
This is a book for dog lovers. It’s for Iditarod fans, and for anyone who wants something creepily different in a novel. And if that’s you, then “The Wild Inside” will make you howl.
• Email book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.