Wolf packs and human families have more similarities than one would think

Carol Wright

By A Contributor

Next time family members need to know how to strengthen ties, solve problems, cope with tragedy and be able to forgive, they would be wise to read Jodi Picoult’s novel, “Lone Wolf.”

After that’s been said, some people might understandably raise their flag of skepticism and ponder why on earth would a human family want to study and learn from a pack of wolves?

Family means everything to a wolf pack but there are some people who can’t always put family first.

There are people who prefer to trust animals because they have been let down too often by other people.

This is what happens to the main character in Picoult’s extremely emotional, tense, ambitious and soulful novel. Luke Warren is a conservationist and wolf biologist. Even as a boy he held a special relationship with animals.

He released a tiger and other circus animals because he believed that animals should not be caged.

Later in his life Luke finds it hard to relate to his family. He and his daughter, Cara, have what they think is a close relationship.

However, life for them is not as smooth as they’d like it to be. Cara moves in with him following Luke’s divorce from Georgie who has since remarried Joe, a lawyer. Cara does not want anything much to do with her stepfather and step-siblings.

Luke and his son, Edward, are at odds with each other. There are secrets between Edward and his father. Edward keeps quiet so not as to hurt his mother and sister. There’s a lot of jealousy, bitterness and betrayal between his brother and sister.

An argument between Luke and Cara results in a horrible automobile accident that severely injures Cara, putting her in the hospital where her father lies in a coma.

Soon, Georgie, Edward and Cara are faced with decisions that they’d rather toss under the dirt and just walk away from but can’t.

It becomes a heartbreaking case of whether or not to pull the plug of the ventilator that keeps Luke breathing, though doctors suspect that due to his brain damage the chances are he will not recover.

In “Lone Wolf,” Picoult does an amazing justice to both the Warren family and an intelligent pack of wolves. Prior to Luke’s accident, the wolves accepted him as one of their brothers when he left home and his family to spend two years infiltrating a pack in the Canadian wilderness.

Picoult’s devotion to portraying a dysfunctional family and how this family could be mended are rarely detailed in other novels that do not focus as well or as convincingly on animal behavior, a family almost destroyed, medicine, science, nature and Indian prophecy. In addition, she certainly has a great knowledge of the laws of medical practice.

In reality, much of the research she did on wolf behavior came from the studies of the self-trained wolf behaviorist featured on television’s “Living With the Wolfman,” Shaun Ellis. Ellis is also the author of “The Man Who Lives With Wolves.” Like Luke, in Picoult’s novel, Ellis learned the hunting skills and signals of wolves. Ellis even taught Picoult how to howl and listen to the wolves’ variations in tone when they called back to her.

I have always appreciated Picoult’s works; even the sorrowful chapters because she and most everyone have had to make tough decisions where there’s no escape and nowhere to run.

The differences between wolves and humans are thousand-fold. A wolf doesn’t necessarily show love or grief like a human does.

Wolves note, perhaps even welcome, individual differences. As predators, they can sense prey miles away, and they can sense when prey is at the end of its life. A wolf will sacrifice itself to save the pack.

But a wolf pack and human family have something in common; they must face critical decisions in life, celebrate life and accept what can’t always be changed.

Carol Wright is a former Manhattan resident.

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