Despite what many of the reviews and much of the marketing says, I don’t see Jodi Picoult as Chick Lit. I see her as straightforward Lit. The gap between her and Barbara Kingsolver seems to me to be more one of style than intent. What they both have in common is the ability to get me inside the heads of multiple characters and see the choices that they face in a different light and empathise with them, even if I don’t like them.
“Lone Wolf” is structured around two Big Topic: what it means to be in a wolf pack, living in the moment and always to putting the pack first and the ethics of dealing with someone in a persistent vegetative state.
The exploration of these topics was cleverly, and often dramatically, woven into the story, without leaving me feeling that I was being force-fed a lot of research and driven to a particular point of view.
The accuracy of Jodi Picoult’s depiction of wolves has been challenged. I think this misses the point. This is a work of fiction that explores the life of Luke, a man who is better able to relate to wolves than to his own family. All the descriptions of wolves are given by Luke, who may or may not be a reliable narrator. How he describes wolf behaviour is important for what it tells me about t Luke, not for its merits as a popular-science manual on wolves.
Picoult uses the Big Topics as vehicles to help us understand what it means to be part of a family led by Luke, the charismatic “Lone Wolf” of the title, who is beloved by strangers, but who will always place his wolves ahead of his family.
We see the impact of Luke on his family from the point of view of Cara, the daughter passionately devoted to her father but guilty about her role in the events that put him in a coma, Edward, the son who walked away from his family because he could not live with who his father had become, Georgie, the ex-wife who finally decided that she could not live with always coming second to Luke’s wolves and, indirectly through extracts from Luke’s autobiography, describing how he became “the man who lives with wolves”.
By using multiple first person accounts, some of which pre-date the main events and some of which recall previous events, Jodi Picoult makes clear that there is no single truth about who a person is or how a family works; that the past can be re-written and the future can be changed but that we remain, always, ourselves.
The message I took from this books was that, unlike a wolf pack, where roles and rules are strongly enforced to place the security of the pack above the welfare of the individual, a human family is a series of choices and willingly made commitments that shape the individuals who live in them. The love between the family members is the strongest force determining the growth that the family enables and the damage that it inflicts.
Jodi Picoult’s writing and her decision to have each chapter from a specific character’s point of view, already made the voices of the characters very distinct. Recorded Books’ decision to cast different actors for each character makes the book stronger and much easier to listen to.
My only quibble with the book is in the, short, last scene, which I don’t think fits the rest of the story.
I recommend this book as more than an entertaining read or tear-jerking chick lit. Read it as the literature it is and see whether you think it measures up.