What Should Be Wild is a forthcoming debut novel by Julia Fine that is a blend of suspense, fantasy, and mainstream fiction.
The story centers around the main character, Maisie Cothay, and her ability to kill or resurrect with a single touch. As a result of her power, she has not experienced physical contact. Her entire family in a fantastical landscape of human experiences. Her brother is a piece of shit with all the inheritance, her father is a zany scientist, her mother died in childbirth, and the background support staff of the large manor the family lives in fill in the emotional support. It has been described as a “dark fairytale,” hitting a lot of the traditional narrative tropes and attempting to break and distort them.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t love this book. I wanted to, so very much. I will lead into this review with a strong caveat – I would read Julia Fine’s next novel. I think my frustration with What Should Be Wild is simply the markings of a new author tearing open genre with their teeth and my issues with the prose will be smoothed over with time. Fine’s voice will only strengthen and get clearer and I’m excited to see what becomes of her work.
All of that being said, Fine struggles with the line between “rich” prose and “overwhelming” prose. The narrative’s mystical and weaving quality is punishingly intricate, and it flipped from gorgeous to exhausting. There are whole chunks of this book that I found to be saturated with words, and for payoffs that didn’t land. I’m not sure the fairytale tropes actually helped, and I was more interested in what Maisie’s life would look like in the present than in the setting she was in.
I’m also not the audience for a book like this, although I would not have known it at first glance. The story features an abusive family, operating with magic, in a luxurious but tragic manor (a gilded cage), and in the 1800’s. It was an ambitious book where much of the world-building focuses on the feminine archetype of being the harbinger of life and the keeper of death. The dark mysterious forces that are projected onto women, especially from this time period, are used as the platform for the story — to the detriment of its main character. I never really saw any of the characters as more than dark fairies of whimsy. It’s more fairy than tale. This is the failure of the literary fiction piece, I think, in that we spend long periods of time in the book waiting for the emotional tension to be disclosed, but it gets buried under the rituals necessary for Maisie to not kill or resurrect anything.
I think the story could be a powerfully political novella, or even a novelette, but as it stands now, it wasn’t for me.
That being said, if you enjoy fantastical suspenseful histories, and I know a lot of people do, you may enjoy this book a lot more.
What Should Be Wild is available for pre-order and will be in stores May 8th. You can buy it here.