What Should Be Wild

Written by Julia Fine
Review by Judith Starkston

What Should Be Wild intertwines stories of several women, spanning millennia, all part of the Blakeley family—women connected by tragic lives in which they were mysteriously “rescued” into a decidedly animate woods which, in the modern day, is near an English village. The contemporary main character, Maisie, latest in this line, kills or resurrects with the touch of her skin, a peculiar curse. Her anthropologist father hides her and teaches her not to touch anything living or once living, plant, animal or human. Touching a door causes the boards to sprout leaves. She killed her mother while in the womb—quite a psychic wound. Rules and proper behavior control her world. The ease with which she melds herself to these strictures is a central theme. We get to know Maisie when a death and her father’s disappearance shatter this routine.

Alternating chapters introduce the other women whose stories bring them to a deathless state in the woods. There’s a bloodthirsty, grim undercurrent to this haven that increases in menace as the book progresses. Embedded in this mystical, fairytale story, which has ironic, dark, humorous moments, are themes involving the dual-sided make-up of women, wild and civilized, the hunger and inner drives of both humans and nature, the layers of reality that lie in parallel existence with each other, and the need for human touch and normalcy. Fine’s style is vivid, veering from humor to horror to lyric. Maisie’s rearing, for example, is deftly laid in here, “I could live on a ‘Well done’ from my father for weeks, siphoning the fatty bits of it like a camel drawing food from its hump.” The story unfolds slowly, but the combination of creepiness, humor and humanity keeps the reader going.