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Pack mentality

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult

Steve Caplan 7 September 2012

No major howlers: Picoult's novel rings true

The only weak point is perhaps that once again, a scientist is depicted as absolutely fanatical in his devotion to his work

Scientists are people who display immense dedication to their respective fields; most people will agree with that statement. But how far will a scientist go to further his or her knowledge? How about leaving his wife and children and the rest of civilization for two years of his life to join a pack of wild wolves in northern Quebec?

On one level, this is the question that best-selling author Jodi Picoult puts forth in her compelling new novel, Lone Wolf. But to be fair, as with most of her novels, Ms. Picoult does not merely present a single-issue novel, but captivates the reader with life-and-death and morbidly complex issues, while providing multiple viewpoints, from Luke himself, his wife/ex-wife Georgie, and their two children Edward and Cara.

At the outset of the novel, Georgie is making a new life for herself; she has divorced Luke, remarried and given birth to twins. Cara, now seventeen, is living with her father, and Edward (now twenty-three) has not been in contact with his father for six years, since a serious and mysterious argument after which he abruptly left home for Thailand and later began to teach English as a second language. The storyline interweaves narration from each of the main characters in the family, cross-referencing the human behavior continuously to that of wolf packs, and examines how an obsession (or alternatively, a non-compromising thirst for knowledge) impacts the family.

Picoult has a tremendous talent for evoking empathy for multiple characters, each with his/her own quirks and flaws, and is unafraid to bring up deeply controversial issues. For those who are not familiar with her prose, most of her novels involve extensive research into a specific topic and then revolve around “normal people” who are forced into exceptional circumstances. Nineteen Minutes dealt with a school shooting and the aftermath in a small town in New England; a timely if not morosely disheartening topic. Handle with Care is a wonderful book that describes the life of a young girl born with Osteogeneis Imperfecta — also known as brittle bone syndrome — and the decision of her mother to sue her best friend and OB/GYN for failing to diagnose the problem in utero.

In this latest novel, Picoult juggles masterful descriptions of Luke’s obsession with wolves and its impact on his family with medical ethics, and the decision of what constitutes ‘being alive’ when Luke suffers from traumatic brain injury following a traffic accident. The ensuing struggle between hope and reality among Luke’s children is one that can further break a family apart, or perhaps allow it to heal.

All told, this is an excellent and riveting novel, by a masterful storyteller. The only weak point — at least from a ‘lab lit’ standpoint — is perhaps that once again a scientist is depicted as absolutely fanatical in his devotion to his work. But what are we scientists — if not at least mildly obsessed? Such is our fate.