It is one of the most difficult decisions any of us must face. What do we do when a loved one is in what appears to be an irreversible failure of health, especially a deep coma? It is one thing to face the decision when there are clear directions. That decision is made more excruciating when there is no clear directive and family members are of two different minds. How does one determine what the loved one might have wanted? Is there the possibility of a miracle?
This magnificent novel can be enjoyed on a number of levels. It is a beautifully told story of one family's trials and tribulations. How can - will - a broken family come together? Can the relationships be restored? What are the secrets that thrust them apart and continue to separate them? All these human family issues are tied to the anthropomorphic behavior of wolves.
Lone Wolf, appropriately, is also a primer on the behavior of wolves in the wild. Nearly everything the reader could want to know about wolves is here in great detail. While this may seem less than interesting, it definitely fills the bill in Jodi Picoult's (Sing You Home, House Rules) masterful telling. Information that might have been related in a dry textbook becomes so integral to the story that one cannot wait to get to the next "wolf" section. Picoult ties the humans and the wolves together as she examines the relationships within the family and the wolf pack and how these two intersect. As Kipling so accurately put it: "For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack."
As always, Picoult centers her novel on a crucial discussion of a social or moral issue. Determining when a person is irrevocably no longer viable, who makes that decision, and who chooses to disconnect a loved one from life support are the conflicts that raise this novel from one of a popular tear-jerker to one that in a literate and thought-provoking manner examines all sides of this complicated and divisive issue.
Picoult tells her story through multiple characters. Primary among these are Jake, the father and lone wolf; Edward, his 24-year old son; Cara, his 17-year old daughter; and Georgie, his former wife. Their characters are exposed in alternating chapters that disclose further detail.
Edward, who ran away from home at 18, has been called home after his father has been rendered comatose in a car accident that his sister Cara survived. "Although I came here dragging my feet, intending to fix whatever was broken and then retreat back to safety half a world away, things have changed. I can't fix what's broken-not my father, not myself, not my family. I can only try to patch it up and hope like hell it holds water."
He is not the only one who cannot fix what is broken. That break has been years in developing and suppurating. A family that once stood as solidly as an oak table has now become a crumbling three-legged stool. Jake a world-renown wolf expert had left the family and lived in the wilds of Canada for two years as a member of a wolf pack. At a simplistic level, this led to his divorce, his son's running away to Thailand, and his daughter coming to live with him at his wolf preserve. As the splintered family tries to determine whether to remove Jake from the machines keeping him alive, Picoult reveals more and more layers of the issues that affect the lives of each character.
It is the unfolding of the back stories of her characters that elevates Lone Wolf above the pack of books that appear every year. It should be required reading in those areas where there are proposals to reintroduce wolves to the wild. It should be required reading for those who would insinuate themselves into the lives of the families who must make the most difficult of decisions. It should be required reading for those who just want to read a well-written, thought-provoking story.
For more on Jodi Picoult and her research on wolves, visit her website: www.jodipicoult.com.