Excerpt & Reviews

But Not For Long bookcover

But Not For Long

“Sensitively conceived and crafted…Acceptance, adaptation, even redemption seem possible.” – Boston Globe


“Wildgen’s second novel is an engaging story with truly interesting and realistic characters the reader will care about.” – Booklist




“…the tone is so far from didactic, and the characters are so skillfully developed, that it succeeds. The third-person narrative dwells equally on the three members of a housing co-op: Hal, a vegetarian who works at a hunger-relief nonprofit; Karin, an athletic writer for a trade magazine about cheese; and the weary Greta, who has moved to the co-op to escape her alcoholic husband. The characters are no-nonsense, practical, Midwestern. Karin, visiting a dairy farm to avoid the blackout, reflects that sheep, with their “oily, strong-smelling fleece,” were “better from a distance.” Goats, however, “ate well and gave a lot of milk, and good goat cheese was always as chic as a little black dress.” Meanwhile, Greta’s drunkard husband begins to go through the agonizing process, vividly conveyed, of getting clean — a metaphor for our society kicking its destructive addictions. What if the apocalypse comes gently, this memorable book asks, not with a bang or a blaze but with the silence of refrigerators no longer buzzing and the “fuzzy dandelions of candlelight floating past the curtains”?  – The New York Times


“An evocative look at the green movement that includes improbably interesting passages on everything from artisanal cheese caves to the joys of hunting for morels in a damp forest, But Not For Long is also a stirring meditation on modern angst and the meaning of selflessness.” – People Magazine


“Wildgen skillfully shifts between the key players, focusing simultaneously on social and interpersonal issues. With its open-ended conclusion, the novel allows the characters’ lives to resonate beyond the final page.” – Publishers Weekly


“The cold emptiness of the not-quite ghost town gets its best rendition from Michelle Wildgen in But Not for Long…The book opens, eerily and beautifully, with a drifting dock in the lake behind the co-op and a dog abandoned alone on it. Each of these signs and events are just hints, backdrops for Wildgen’s meaty, vibrant characters and their personal crises… These stories are well and sensitively told, and Greta, especially, shows off Wildgen’s talent for complexity and ambiguity. The end of the book belongs to Will. He doesn’t wrap up the plot, or tie down loose ends; instead, with no less realism or grace than in the rest of the novel, his narration shifts the focus and draws together the resonances Wildgen has set up, through the blackout and the hints of catastrophe. They resolve into something like a chord, entirely through implication, in an amazingly unobtrusive virtuoso display.” – Philadelphia City Paper


“Wildgen deftly intertwines environmental themes with her characters’ emotional searches, and the result is a multi-layered story that feels relevant without becoming overly sentimental or political. Wildgen’s last book was acclaimed by critics, and But Not for Long should equally be praised for its well-wrought portrait of those navigating a world that seems to be crumbling around them.” – Bookslut


“In clear, precise prose, Wildgen tracks this process of restarting, adjusting, and refreshing.” – The Rumpus



Karin arrived at ten thirty, pulling up a long unpaved drive and finally parking in the shadow of a massive dark-stained wood house. She couldn’t tell if there was any electricity available, and it frankly didn’t seem to matter. Madison, its weird empty stores and quiet roads and murky rooms, felt as far away as the Middle East.


She gathered her notebook and pens and recorder, looked briefly in the mirror, and poked at the inner corners of her eyes with a pinky. She looked a little tired but natural. She never wore makeup for visiting farmers. It was bad enough that she was young and inexperienced. If she wore lip gloss they might not even bother.


Outside the air was grassy-smelling, warm and heavy but cooler this far north. She stretched and shook out her legs, listening for sounds of machinery or voices. She heard nothing at all. Before her the house loomed, windowpanes shining and inscrutable. Her shoes were loud in the gravel. The trees arched over her; fields stretched into woods on either side.


There was motion further up the driveway. She looked up and saw a huge animal regarding her. Some kind of hound, iron gray and wiry-haired, a long-legged creature that approached her so lightly its paws barely skimmed the ground. It never barked. As it neared, Karin slowed and then froze, realizing the dog’s jaws were easily as high as her waist.


The silence—the dog’s silence, the silence of the landscape around them—was deeply unnerving. The breeze moved through the branches of the trees, the surrounding grass was uncut and lissome, bending in one direction and then another as if in pleasant indecision, and at the end of the pathway rose the farmhouse, its window boxes filled with fire-colored petunias. The grey dog trotted toward her, caramel eyes agleam beneath a rakish flop of fur. Karin had the feeling she had entered a fairy tale at the wrong time. The scent of grass and manure drifted by.


She put out a hand to the dog, palm out, as if to stop it, but the dog simply kept coming and let its great head collide with her hand. She felt the knob at the back of its skull, its coarse fur. The arch of the dog’s back rose almost to her chest. Yet its warm, wiry fur beneath her fingers was a relief, breaking the peculiar spell of the silence of the hilltop, its soundless guard. It was just a dog. A dog on a farm was hardly a shock. They were everywhere.

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