Stewart begins her book with the story of the book itself. It is her story, honest and tender rather than raw, that moves the book from pretty good to "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." There are few myths and stories that speak to the rites of passage for women. Limited to her first set of heels, menarche, motherhood and menopause our cultural story of becoming a woman is a fairly narrow one that turns on beauty (or lack thereof) and plumbing.
Stewart meets who am I, what am I and why am I head on. Her women are flawed, struggling and blind to their own power. The werewulves of Stewart's mythology transform not from human to supernatural wolf but from creatures not quite human, not quite other, wrestling with the every person questions of personal identity and place, to women with the power to accept the who and where of their journey. Flaws and struggles are not miraculously transformed and the discovery of personal power isn't the answer to emptiness.
This isn't a story of magical creatures. It isn't a book that humanizes mythology. It is, at it's heart, the honest and forceful story of women learning they are bigger than the frameworks that have been built for them.
Breaking beyond established frameworks not only colors the weave of "The Wylding: A Novel of Sorts" it is essential to the very structure of the book, thus "...a Novel of Sorts." Using her own story as means of introduction, Stewart makes no effort at completion. We know the backstory of the work, yet none of the "stories" (chapters, units, pieces) truly begins or ends. They are whole unto themselves and yet the structure we expect of beginning-middle-end is unapologetically absent. The first step of each character's journey is taken long before we come into their lives and there is no end, no final triumphant moment of destination. The strings are not neatly tied up in trimmed and manageable bows.The story moves its way through history; forward, back, through and place shifts by definition and personal geography. Stewart's prose and poetry are proof that tired editing rule of paring away all that is unnecessary should, itself, be pared away. Without the paragraphical sentence and the adjective filled phrase Stewart's voice wouldn't ring as clearly as it does.
Stewart's story of the women who run AS wulves and the story of how she and they came to be are honest and unflinchingly real. Her voice isn't one that speaks from a place above and it isn't the sort that screams "transformative!" or "inspirational!" Instead, along with the best storytellers throughout time and space, Stewart gentles us into indulging in a bit of harmless entertainment all the while calling us to respond, to move, to become.
Though their books have no obvious connection readers who loved, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (Vintage) will find in "The Wylding" a similar honest reflection on self-ness and compassion for the struggler, the seeker, the broken. Just as Strayed does Stewart speaks with an inner optimism embracing all that is difficult, flawed, obstructive and even evil in the world.
"The Wylding" is dense. A quick, pleasurable read it invites another and another and reveals itself broad and deep. Each time the story becomes something new and tiny, undiscovered jewels appear, ready to be gathered up and used, tools and treasure for the journey.