Hugo Novelettes: Away With the Wolves, Sarah Gailey

Suss is a werewolf. The village she lives in know this and do their best to tolerate her occasional time as a wolf but when Nan Gideon’s goat is killed, people’s patience begins to wear thin.

“How bad is it this time?” I ask Alger, but he just pats my shoulder, as awkward as I imagine he would be if I were still naked.
“Not bad,” he says vaguely, and he gives me a smile that tells me it is, in fact, quite bad. My suspicion is confirmed a few seconds after we walk through the door of his cottage, when Yana greets me with a bundle of clothes and a grim nod.
“Three chickens, two gardens, the apothecary, and maybe a goat,” she says, by way of a greeting.

Her friend Yana is understanding but Suss’s life is lonely and painful. The cost of transforming from human to wolf and back again is taking a toll on her body. Living in a house in the centre of the village is another complicating factor.

This is a story with a simple plot and a complex theme. It isn’t unusual for stories to examine complex emotions nor is it unusual for characters in a story to feel pain but it is unusual for a story to place chronic pain so centrally (and compassionately) at the heart of the story.

I don’t get to feel this kind of pain when I’m human-Suss. I am too careful for that. I don’t run and fall like this, because I move in ways that will conserve my ability to keep moving all day. And when I do injure myself, the pain is always a little distant. It’s like the straw in Nan Gideon’s goats’ pen. They don’t notice one fresh extra fistful of straw, even if it’s more yellow than what they’ve already got to walk on. A cut, or a twisted ankle, or a fresh bruise: that pain just adds a new voice to the constant chorus of pain in my body.
But when I am a wolf, the pain sings alone, bright and strident. It calls my attention for a reason—my paw hurts because there is a rock in it, and then it hurts because there is a hole in it where the rock used to be. I feel pain when I am a wolf, but it’s pain I can attend to. It’s pain that has meaning.
It’s pain that’s mine. Mine to notice. Mine to attend to. Mine to see and feel.

Suss navigates her way through the problems of her life with help from her friends and often by practical decisions. However, even as her circumstances improve there is an element missing from her life.

This is not a story that offers many surprises beyond the skill with which pain, fear and loneliness can be discussed with gentleness. It’s a story with kindness and acceptance in it that avoids cliches (the villagers are unhappy about Suss’s wolfish behaviour but they aren’t pitchfork wielding mob). The resolution is signalled well in advance but not clumsily so.


5 responses to “Hugo Novelettes: Away With the Wolves, Sarah Gailey”

  1. This was one of my nominees and my favorite of the novelette finalists. It’s a beautiful depiction of friendship. Between the two young women, between human and wolf, and between wolves.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Based on your review I read this just now. Lovely story, and by far my favourite of this author’s work that I’ve read so far.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This one worked so well for me I would give it all the Hugos if it was in my power. It’s nice to see gentleness and cooperation. And it has/is a damn beautiful metaphor.

    Liked by 1 person

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