Luke Warren, a researcher who has lived in the wild with wolf packs but now lies in hospital hooked to a ventilator, is at the centre of Jodi Picoult's latest novel, Lone Wolf.
Picoult (noted for half a dozen New York Times bestsellers) stays true to the franchise-style books that have worked for her in the past. As usual, multiple narrators tell the story centred on a provocative issue, and reveal dire secrets as the plot progresses. Readers know what to expect – and get it.
Luke is alive because his 17-year-old daughter Cara, who was also severely injured in the crash, managed to pull him from the car before it burst into flames. However, the accident caused an enormous brain injury, one that leaves him with no hope of recovery, at least according to the neurologist on his case.
On hearing of the accident, Luke's ex-wife Georgie (now remarried to Joe Ng and the mother of twins) contacts Edward, their 24-year-old son who abruptly left the family after an altercation with his father six years earlier.
Edward's departure and failure to communicate with his family afterward destroys Luke and Georgie's already fragile marriage. It also shatters Cara's ability to trust anyone. Unable to fit into her mother's new life (where she is not the epicentre), Cara chooses to live with her father in a trailer outside the research facility housing a pack of wolves.
In Bangkok, where he has been teaching English, once alerted to his father's state and sister's injuries, Edward immediately returns to the family circle. There he keeps vigil beside his father. Jet-lagged, sleep deprived and unbalanced by events and old grievances, Edward determines straightaway that the best course of action is to withdraw life support. Luke would want to die.
Cara, recovering from surgery and on morphine, is on an emotional roller coaster due to her father's condition. Also disturbed by her brother's return and victim of her own numerous self-absorbed and fanciful notions, she believes that Luke can and must recover. After all, wasn't he the one who worked with her to save a litter abandoned by its wolf mother? Didn't he rehabilitate a wolf who chewed off his leg when trapped and integrate him with the research pack? Luke would fight to live.
Though she considers herself better qualified to represent her father, Cara is a minor. Determined to save her father from a brother who wants to "kill him," she mounts a legal challenge against Edward for the right to determine Luke's fate.
The nature and scope of Luke's research and life among various wolf packs (based on Briton Shaun Ellis's work) is a parallel theme to that of his broken and dysfunctional family throughout the book.
As fascinating as the current research on wolves might be, linking the human family constellation to the structure of a wolf pack never quite works. Rather, it becomes a constraint which at best is simplistic psychology and at worst invites cliché. As well, the principal human characters have little complexity. They share too much self-interest, jealousy and false logic, making it hard to care about this family – or even Luke's fate.
Lynda Grace Philippsen, a freelance writer in Abbotsford, B.C., writes about people, places and subjects that capture her imagination.