Author:
 Jodi Picoult

Title: Lone Wolf

Publisher: Emily Bestler Books/Atria

Crises can either draw a family together or tear them apart. When Luke Warren's family has to face reality—and each other—across his hospital bed, it's not clear which direction they'll go.

Saying someone was "raised by wolves" is a joke—but for Luke, it's practically reality. Technically, he wasn't so much raised by wolves as adopted by them as an adult. Luke went so far as to leave his wife and children to spend two years in the wild, living off the land, becoming a member of the pack. What would cause a man to leave his family and live in the wild with wolves? Maybe it's because he has an unusual definition of family. His experience earned him celebrity status and his own Animal Planet show. But while you can take the man out of the wilderness, you can't take the wilderness out of the man, and Luke's relationships suffered mightily as a result.

But that was years ago. Now Luke and teenage daughter Cara have been in an auto accident. She shattered her shoulder; he's unconscious and unlikely to wake up. So what happens next? And who gets to decide?

Luke's now-ex-wife no longer has any legal status. Their son, Edward, is estranged from the family and hasn't spoken to his father for six years. Cara is still recovering from the shock and her injuries, and she's only seventeen, anyway.

Since they can't consult the wolf pack, Luke's human family tries to come to grips with the situation and determine what Luke would have wanted. Edward drops everything and flies to be at his father's and sister's sides but it's not the happiest of homecomings; there's a lot of pent-up emotion waiting to be spilled. As one might expect from a Picoult story, everyone ends up in court at least once before it's all over.

As usual, Picoult gets inside a variety of character's heads and presents their point of view while moving the story forward. Even Luke's voice makes regular appearances, mostly to talk about his obsession with wolves and how he worked his way into a pack.

While many (if not most) of her novels are issue-driven, Lone Wolf seem less about the morality (or not) of pulling the plug as it is about family loyalties and the secrets that bind them together. One might expect that to make the characters more appealing, yet Lone Wolf is somehow not as engrossing as previous Picoult titles. She does the usual stellar job of distilling complex medical issues into understandable layman's terms and creates reasonable tension in the courtroom battles. And yet…

Whether it's the frequent interruptions from Luke describing in detail things like which part of the kill each level of wolf is allowed to eat or a by-product of the separation each character feels from the others, it's hard to really care about any of the people involved. (The possible exception to this is Joe, Cara and Edward's stepfather, a truly nice guy trying to negotiate the emotional minefield and come out with his family intact.)

Fortunately, even when she's not at the top of her game, Picoult is a top-notch writer. Lone Wolf is by no means a bad book—just not as fabulous as we've come to expect from this authoor.

*This Review First Published 3/12/2012