Book parallels humans, wolves

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Atria Books

Jodi Picoult’s 19th novel, Lone Wolf, is a compelling and fascinating read.

Well-known for her novels about family drama, Picoult addresses two major areas of interest to readers: the right-to-die debate as well as who has the right to make medical decisions when a loved one has left no instructions.

Adding regional interest, Picoult adds to this already volatile mix the study of wolf packs and the designated roles played by their members, which can be eerily similar to some human families.

This intriguing story, set in New Hampshire, opens with a young Luke Warren, who beginning his lifelong interest in animals releases an entire collection of wild creatures from a visiting circus. Flash forward to Luke’s future where he has an ex-wife Georgie and two children: one absent son, Edward, and an adoring daughter, Cara.

As an adult, Luke has honed his interest in animals to the wolf packs of North America. He has studied and written about them and even spent time living with a pack while leaving his young family behind to fend for themselves.

Luke seems to understand his wolf “families” better than his own, and eventually, Georgie can‘t take the loneliness and leaves him and remarries. Cara remains with her father and shares his adventures as a keeper of a captive wolf pack.

Picoult continues her effective technique of unfolding the action by having her characters narrate their own stories and alternates their points of view chapter by chapter.

A 17-year-old Cara begins in the present by describing the accident that seriously injures her and leaves Luke in a coma. Picoult’s meticulous research into traumatic brain injuries is woven throughout, adding to the immediacy and intensity of the drama.

Georgie summons estranged 26-year-old son Edward, who suddenly left home six years before, back from Thailand to make medical decisions for Luke’s care because legally she cannot and Cara is underage.

Because Cara was so young when Edward left, she has no idea what caused him to leave. She knows only that her beloved older brother, who always looked out for her, suddenly abandoned her in the middle of the night with no word since.

Cara is still hurt and furious with Edward, especially when doctors say Luke will not recover, and they bypass her and look to Edward for direction. Picoult raises many questions surrounding this critical dilemma. What would Luke want?

He so admired his wolves, and when a wolf is injured or too old to contribute to the pack, they go off and die alone. Though Edward’s relationship to his father was fractured, he believes Luke wouldn’t want to exist in a vegetative state.

Edward wants to turn off life-support and donate his organs. Cara, who has her own hidden issues with her father and doesn’t trust the doctors’ dire prognosis, wants him kept alive. What follows is a battle of wills that leads to a courtroom showdown.

As engrossing as this human tragedy is, Luke’s chapters about the intimate experiences with wolf packs are equally gripping.

Picoult did extensive research, even traveling to England to observe and consult with Shaun Ellis, author of The Man Who Lives with Wolves.

Ellis is a self-trained expert who lived with a wolf pack in Idaho and included the experience in his book. He also has a television show on Animal Planet called “Living with the Wolfman.”

As alluring as the descriptions of the wolves and their behaviors are, there are many other experts in the field who take exception to the accuracy of Picoult’s portrayal.

Some even compare Ellis and his actions to Timothy Treadwell, known as “Grizzly Man.” Treadwell’s fascination and study of grizzlies came to a deadly ending in 2003. So expert wolf opinions aside, doesn’t artistic license prevail?

Only readers can decide. Lone Wolf is an engrossing and captivating narrative that delves into the complex issues of family relationships and the brutal choices faced in end-of-life decisions.