Edward Warren, 23, has been living in Thailand for five years, a prodigal son who left his family after an irreparable fight with his father, Luke. But he gets a frantic phone call: His dad lies comatose in a NH hospital, gravely injured in the same accident that has also injured his younger sister Cara. …more
Picoult’s impressive research into wolf biology, hierarchy and pack mentality ultimately forms a plausible and highly informative story. … This is a heartbreaking story told in engaging prose.”
A scene from Lone Wolf tells an unforgettable story about family secrets, love, and letting go.
LONE WOLF looks at the intersection between medical science and moral choices. If we can keep people who have no hope for recovery alive artificially, should they also be allowed to die artificially? Does the potential to save someone else’s life with a donated organ balance the act of hastening another’s death? And finally, when a father’s life hangs in the balance, which sibling should get to decide his fate?
The publisher: Atria Books, 2012 (Book 20 )
Those who want to learn more about wolves, sponsor wolves, or contribute to Shaun Ellis’s Wolf Centre and foundation can visit www.thewolfcentre.co.uk.
I highly recommend reading Shaun’s book THE MAN WHO LIVES WITH WOLVES if you want to hear from a real-life Luke Warren.
Cara, 17, still holds a grudge against her brother, since his departure led to her parents’ divorce. In the aftermath, she’s lived with her father – an animal conservationist who became famous after living with a wild wolf pack in the Canadian wild. It is impossible for her to reconcile the still, broken man in the hospital bed with her vibrant, dynamic father.
With Luke’s chances for recovery dwindling, Cara wants to wait for a miracle. But Edward wants to terminate life support and donate his father’s organs. Is he motivated by altruism, or revenge? And to what lengths will his sister go to stop him from making an irrevocable decision?
I first thought about writing about the right to die when I was on a plane over a decade ago. I was sitting next to a neurologist who dealt with these sorts of issues all the time. I said, “I’m not ready to write this book now, but one day I will be, so remember my name…because I’ll come calling!” Eventually, years later, I started mulling over the fact that although we often hear about parents and spouses who differ in their opinions about life sustaining care for a victim of a serious brain trauma, we rarely hear about two parties who have an equal claim to that decision. That led me to wonder what would happen if two children were fighting over whether or not to terminate life support for their parent. So I called that neurologist and said… “Remember me?” Luckily, he did!
I knew right away that one of the characters involved in the decision would be a prodigal son with a secret in his past; and that his sister would be the more faithful child…who was too young to have a legal say in the decision. But what about the father himself – the man whose life was hanging in the balance?
One morning I woke up thinking about wolves: how they seem to function as a family; how the group is more important than the whole. I didn’t know how, but it seemed to me that there was a metaphor in here that was going to work with the story I was trying to tell. That’s when I created the character of Luke Warren – a man who studies wolves not by observing them, but by living with them. At least, I THOUGHT I had created the character. Little did I know there was someone real who had done just this…Shaun Ellis, a British man who had lived with a wild wolf pack in the Rockies.
I went to visit him in Coombe Martin, at the wildlife park where he now keeps several captive packs of wolves, and got to meet him and his wolves up close and personal. His job, as he sees it, is to bring people the truth about wolves, because they’ve gotten a bad rep. They aren’t cold blooded killers; they are very intelligent animals for whom nothing matters more than family.
The first thing he taught me were the rankings of a wolf pack. The first wolf you’ll encounter is not the alpha, but a beta – tough, comes rushing up to you, responsible for discipline in the pack. Betas are expendable; they are the thugs in the mafia family. The alpha will hang back. Wary. The brains of the group, and too valuable to put him or herself in danger – he’s like the king not going into battle. The alpha is the one who tells everyone – including the big tough beta – what to do. An alpha can hear the change in the rhythm of your heart rate from six or seven feet away. An alpha female can terminate her own pregnancy if she feels that it’s not a good time for breeding in the pack. She can keep the other females in the pack from coming into season, so that she is the only one breeding. She can create a phantom pregnancy, which puts all the adult wolves on their best behavior, trying to be picked as nanny – and then when everyone’s acting on their best game, she reveals that she isn’t pregnant at all. The way she directs her pack: gland on the tail, which is as individual as a footprint. That’s what dogs are always sniffing. By moving her tail one way or the other, she directs her scent, and it’s like an arrow for the wolves in her pack to follow.
Next is the diffuser wolf – which used to be called the Omega or the Cinderella wolf. This is the low man on the totem pole, the one who eats last, the one who seemingly is picked on by the other wolves. They actually serve a purpose in the pack – to diffuse tension. Whenever there’s bickering, they jump in like a jokester, rolling on their backs and howling or licking – immediately doing something to bring down the tension level. They are the peacemakers who will jump between two wolves fighting to the death, greet one, draws attention to itself, clowns around and suddenly both the animals are very placid and no one gets hurt. There’s a tester wolf – the quality control dude. He’s a nervous wolf, always on edge, who makes sure that everyone is doing his job. So for example, he’ll fight the beta to make sure the beta can still protect everyone. He’ll challenge an alpha’s decision to make sure that the alpha is still the smartest animal in the pack. A lot of people mistake the alpha for the tester because there’s a fine line between a nervous, suspicious animal and a self-aware, self-preserving alpha.
Then come the numbers wolves, which fill in the pack with strength of size, and nanny wolves -- older alphas and betas who are now like great-grandparents and are given the role of teaching the new wolf pups how to survive.
Shaun also explained to me how diversity in food is really important to a wolf since different foods do different things for them. Social foods help them remember pack structure. An example of this would be the entire pack feeding off the same bison, but alpha gets the organs, beta gets the muscle meat, diffuser gets the stomach contents, etc., based on ranking. Emotional foods are given when the alpha wants the pack to recall a time in their life that was placid. So for example since milk products remind wolves of being pups and calm them down, an alpha might direct her hunters to kill the one lactating deer in a herd so that her pack, when feeding, becomes more easygoing before the arrival of pups.
But most importantly, Shaun shared with me his experience living in the wild with wolves. After working as a traditional biologist for a Native American group of researchers, he decided he wanted to try to live with a wild pack. He spent months in the forest, tracking them, getting adjusted to their schedule and moving at night. One day a beta came up and nipped at him. He stayed still, and they vanished. Eventually they returned. Finally they began to sleep, play beside him, and treat him like a member of the pack – a numbers wolf. The pack clearly knew he was human, but the human world is encroaching on the wolf world, and they need to learn about us as much as we need to learn about them. So gradually, they accepted him. They wouldn’t normally let him hunt because he was so slow compared to wolves, but they would bring him back meat from a kill to eat, which he said tasted like a warm, slimy scotch broth. Occasionally he’d hunt in ambush situations, when they needed strength in numbers to surprise prey. He told me the hardest part of living with the wolves was not the cold, rain, or starvation. It was losing the emotional ties to the human world. When Shaun returned from the wolves, at first, he couldn’t be in a grocery store – the smells were overwhelming. Horses 25 meters away would shy away when he passed by. He could see, hear, and smell better in the dark.
One of the things he taught me to do was to howl, so that I could communicate with wolves. Howls are like wolf email. They use them to communicate with other packs, telling them how strong their pack is. This helps the alpha figure out what the pack needs – i.e. how many pups need to be bred; what sort of food she needs to get the pack to eat to keep them stronger than the rival packs, etc. The different wolves in a pack have a different role in the howling. The alpha is strategic; the beta has that iconic Hollywood howl, and the numbers wolf creates the illusion that there are more wolves in the pack then there actually are. Shaun showed me that there are three types of howls: a rallying howl, which is a vocal beacon to bring back a missing member of the pack; a locating howl, which is like a voice message to give the placement of any pack that’s in the area – not just where my family is, but others as well; and finally, a defensive howl, which is much deeper, and used to protect your territory. With my son and my publicist in tow, Shaun taught us the melody that an alpha, a beta, and a numbers wolf would use, and how to sing them in concert. I started as the alpha – a deep intermittent tone, howling for five or six seconds and then listening to make decisions based on what I hear. My son’s beta howl was three times longer than mine – it was all about strength, to let those listening know how tough he was. Finally, my publicist, as the numbers wolf, created the illusion that there were many of her, with a howl that circled and pitched between the tones my son and I were using. The most amazing thing happened: the packs all around us began to howl back. It was the coolest feeling to know that we had “sent” out our position, and were getting responses because we were speaking their language.
Having a character who is as connected to the natural world as Shaun is – one for whom family matters most, and who understands that death is a natural part of life – was vital to this novel. There is a lot we still don’t know about traumatic brain injury – but it is very often misdiagnosed. For that reason, what looks like a “miraculous” recovery usually isn’t. If a patient truly has an unrecoverable brain injury, the best one can hope for is chronic nursing home care. That said, I’ve read a great deal about recent studies that indicate there are indications of awareness in some traumatic brain injury patients; that Ambien might actually wake up patients from a vegetative state to a minimally conscious state. I don’t know if medical science will continue to advance and change our perspectives about what “unrecoverable” means. Often the relatives who are put in the position of making decisions about life support are thinking about their own reticence to let a loved one go. But it’s never a simple choice. As Shaun told me, he has seen injured wolves slink away to die alone because they know it’s for the greater good of the pack; he has also seen wolves in prominent pack roles nursed back to health because their knowledge and expertise is so necessary to the pack. Which of these two extremes Luke Warren best fits is up to the reader.
By Belinda Luscombe
I doubt it. Researching Lone Wolf, I was amazed at how thoughtful and intelligent these animals are. There has never been a documented attack against a human by a wolf that wasn’t provoked by the human. But the book began for me with a premise about the right to die and what happens when you have equal competing interests trying to make a decision about the health care of a loved one who is in a vegetative state. I woke up one morning thinking about wolves and realized that wolf packs function as families. Everyone has a role, and if you act within the parameters of your role, the whole pack succeeds, and when that falls apart, so does the pack.
My position is, have a conversation long before you ever find yourself in that situation, because you will be doing the greatest service to your loved ones by not making them make these decisions for you.
My husband is this amazing guy who is very strong and outdoorsy. And he has always said, “I don’t want to be alive if I can’t move. Just pull the plug.” My take on it is, if I can type with my tongue, I’m good. As long as I have an outlet for my imagination, I like the idea of sticking around.
I have no idea. If a woman writes about family and about the connections between people and what it means to be alive in this day and time, it’s called women’s fiction. And if a man does it, it’s nominated for a National Book Award. What--you can’t have a heart and a penis? That doesn’t make sense.
I am appalled. It is one of the greatest embarrassments about living in New Hampshire. I’ve been very vocal about it. I was writing Sing You Home when my oldest son came out to me. He is exactly the kind of kid you would want to settle in a place like this, because he is so smart, engaged and civic-minded.
I really doubt it.
Dan Brown used to live here. Adam Sandler grew up in New Hampshire.
Not at all. The reason I like having my books adapted is not that I’m expecting them to be good copies of the story but that you reach people who would never otherwise pick up a book. But that said, it’s really hard to have people in Hollywood lie to you. What’s really upsetting is when a fan says, “Why did you let them change the ending?” As if we have any say in the matter.
If I get drunk enough.
“Picoult’s well-developed characters, compelling story and authentic prose create a novel that many will undoubtedly call her best yet — which it just may be.”
— Newark Star Ledger
“Picoult returns with two provocative questions: can a human join a wolf pack, and who has the right to make end-of-life decisions? ... Picoult as usual probes intriguing matters of the heart while introducing her fans to subjects they might not otherwise explore. You can always count on Picoult for a terrific page-turner about a compelling subject.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Jodi Picoult is a master of building a compelling story around a controversial issue… Fans won't be disappointed.”
“ Picoult runs with the wolves in her compelling latest, a blend of interspecies friendship and searing family crisis… The story also incorporates fascinating research about wolf packs as model domestic units. Does the family that howls together stay together? This page-turner will keep you wondering.”
— PEOPLE magazine 3.5/4 stars
Seconds before our truck slams into the tree, I remember the first time I tried to save a life.
It was just after I’d moved back in with my father. I was still getting used to living in a trailer on the north end of Redmond’s Trading Post, Wild Kingdom, & Dinosaur World, where my father’s captive wolf packs were housed, along with gibbons, falcons, an overweight lion, and the animatronic T-Rex that roared on the hour. Although I’d thought this alternative beat living with my mom and Joe and the miracle twins, it hadn’t been the smooth transition I’d hoped for. I was thirteen, and I guess I’d pictured us making pancakes together on Sunday morning, or playing Hearts, or taking walks in the woods. Well, my dad did take walks in the woods, but they were inside the pens he’d built for his packs, and he was busy being a wolf. He’d roll around in the mud with Sibo and Sobagw, the numbers wolves; he’d steer clear of Pekeda, the beta of the pack. He’d eat from the carcass of a calf with wolves on either side of him, his hands and his mouth bloody. My dad believed that infiltrating a pack was far more educational than observing, like biologists did. By the time I moved in with him, he’d already gotten five packs to accept him as a bonafide member – worthy of living with, eating with, and hunting with them, in spite of the fact that he was human. Because of this, some people thought he was a genius. The rest thought he was insane.
I had left the house I grew up in – the one my mom lived in, now, with her brand-spanking-new family, because I felt like a fifth wheel. I’d like to say that my dad was waiting for me with open arms when I showed up at his trailer, but that’s not true. He was down in one of the enclosures with Mestawe, who was pregnant for the first time, and he was trying to forge a relationship with her so she’d pick him as the nanny for the pups. He even slept there, with his wolf family, while I stayed up and flicked through the TV channels.
In the summers, the White Mountains region was packed with visitors who went from Santa’s Village to Storyland to Redmond’s Trading Post. In March, though, that stupid T-Rex roared to an empty theme park. The only people who stayed on the off-season were my dad, who looked after his wolves, and Louie, a caretaker who covered the rest of the animals. It felt like a ghost town, so I started hanging out at the enclosures after school -- close enough that Bedagi, the tester wolf, would pace on the other side of the fence, getting used to my scent. I’d watch my father dig a birthing bowl for Mestawe in her den, and meanwhile, I’d tell him about the football captain who was caught cheating, or the oboe player in the school orchestra who had taken to wearing caftans, and was rumored to be pregnant.
In return, my dad told me why he was worried about Mestawe: she was a young female, and instinct only went so far. She didn’t have a role model who could teach her to be a good mother; she’d never had a litter before. Sometimes, a wolf would abandon her pups simply because she didn’t know better.
The night Mestawe gave birth, she seemed to be doing everything by the book. My father celebrated by opening a bottle of champagne, and letting me drink a glass. I wanted to see the babies, but my father said it would be weeks before they emerged. Even Mestawe would stay in the den for a full week, feeding the pups every two hours.
Only two nights later, though, my father shook me awake. “Cara,” he said, “I need your help.”
I threw on my winter coat and boots and followed him to the enclosure where Mestawe was in her den. Except, she wasn’t. She was wandering around, as far from her babies as she could get. “I’ve tried everything to get her back inside, but she won’t go,” my father said matter-of-factly. “If we don’t save the pups now we won’t have a second chance.”
He burrowed into the den and came out holding two tiny, wrinkled rats. At least that’s what they looked like, eyes squinched shut, wriggling in his hand. He passed these over to me; I tucked them inside my coat as he pulled out the last two pups. One looked worse off than the other three. It wasn’t moving; instead of grunting, it let out tiny puffs every now and then.
I followed my dad to a tool shed that stood behind the trailer. While I was sleeping he’d tossed all the tools into the snow; now the floor inside was covered with hay. A blanket I recognized from the trailer – a fluffy red plaid – was inside a small cardboard box. “Tuck them in,” my father instructed, and I did. A hot water bottle underneath the blanket made it feel warm and almost like a belly; three of the babies immediately began to snuffle into the pockets of the blanket. The fourth was cold to the touch. Instead of putting her beside her brothers, I slipped her into my coat again, against my heart.
When my father returned, he was holding baby bottles full of ESPlac, which is like formula, but for animals. He reached for the little pup in my arms, but I couldn’t let her go. “I’ll feed the others,” he told me, and while I coaxed mine to drink a drop at a time, his three sucked down every last bottle.
Every two hours, we fed the babies. The next morning, I didn’t get dressed for school and my father didn’t act like he expected me to. It was an unspoken arrangement: what we were doing here was far more important than anything I could learn in a classroom.
On the third day, we named them. My father believed in using indigenous names for indigenous creatures, so all his wolf names came from the Abenaki language. Nodah, which meant hear me, was the name we gave the biggest of the bunch, a noisy black ball of energy. Kina, or look here, was the troublemaker who got tangled in shoelaces or stuck under the flaps of the cardboard box. And Kita, or listen, hung back and watched us, his eyes never missing a thing.
Their little sister I named Miguen, feather. There were times she’d drink as well as her brothers and I would believe she was out of the woods, but then she’d go limp and blue in my grasp and I’d have to rub her and slip her inside my shirt to keep her warm again.
I was so tired from staying up round the clock that I couldn’t see straight. I sometimes slept on my feet, dozing for a few minutes before I snapped awake again. The whole time, I carried Miguen, until my arms felt empty without her in them. On the fourth night, when I opened my eyes after nodding off my father was staring at me with an expression I’d never seen before on his face. “When you were born,” he said, “I wouldn’t let go of you, either.”
Two hours later, Miguen started shaking uncontrollably. I begged my father to drive to a vet, to the hospital, to someone who could help. I cried so hard that he bundled the other pups into a box and carried them out to the battered truck he drove. The box sat between us in the front seat and Miguen shivered beneath my coat. I was shaking too, although I’m not sure whether I was cold, or just afraid of what I knew what coming.
She was gone by the time we got to the parking lot of the vet’s office. I knew the minute it happened; she was lighter in my arms. Like a shell.
I started to scream. I couldn’t stand the thought of Miguen, dead, being this close to me.
My father took her away from me and wrapped her in his flannel shirt. He slipped the body into the backseat where I wouldn’t have to see her. “In the wild,” he told me, “she never would have lasted a day. You’re the only reason she stayed as long as she did.”
If that was supposed to make me feel better: it didn’t. I burst into loud sobs.
Suddenly the box with the wolf pups was on the dashboard, and I was in my father’s arms. He smelled of spearmint and snow. For the first time in my life, I truly understood why he couldn’t break free of the drug that was the wolf community. Compared to matters like this, of life and death, did it really matter if the dry cleaning was picked up, or if he forgot the date of open-school night?
In the wild, my father told me, a mother wolf learns her lessons the hard way. But in captivity, where wolves are bred only once every three or four years, the rules were different. You couldn’t stand by and just let a pup die. “Nature knows what it wants,” my father said. “But that doesn’t make it any easier for the rest of us, does it?”
There is a tree outside my father’s trailer, a red maple. We planted it the summer after Miguen died, to mark where she is buried. It’s the same type of tree that, almost four years later, I see rushing toward the windshield too fast. The same type of tree our truck hits, in that instant, head-on.
A woman is kneeling beside me. “She’s awake,” the woman says. There’s rain in my eyes and I smell smoke and I can’t see my father.
Dad? I say, but I can only hear it in my head.
My heart’s beating in the wrong place. I look down at my shoulder where I can feel it.
“Looks like a scapula fracture and maybe some broken ribs and contusions. Cara? Are you Cara?”
How does she know my name?
“You’ve been in an accident,” the woman tells me. “We’re going to take you to the hospital.”
“My…father…” I force out. Every word is a knife in my arm.
I turn my head to try to find him and see the firemen, spraying a hose at the ball of flames that used to be my dad’s truck. The rain on my face isn’t rain, just mist from the stream of water.
Suddenly I remember: the web of shattered windshield; the fishtail of the truck skidding; the smell of gasoline. The way when I cried for my dad he didn’t answer. I start shaking all over.
“You’re incredibly brave,” the woman says to me. “Dragging your father out of the car in your condition...”
I saw an interview once where a teenage girl who was babysitting her cousin once lifted a refrigerator off the little boy when it accidentally fell on him. It had something to do with adrenaline.
A fireman who has been blocking my view moves and I can see another knot of EMTs gathered around my father, who is lying very still on the ground.
“If it weren’t for you,” the woman adds, “your dad might not be alive.”
Later, I will wonder if that comment is the reason I did everything I did. But right now, I just start to cry. Because I know her words couldn’t be farther from the truth.