Reviewed by Luke See
Counterpoint Berkeley, 2012
In the opening pages of B.K. Loren’s debut novel Theft, three children gather around a dying bird. It is a quiet scene held together with nuance and pain. In between these three characters, this small bird reveals, in many ways, the courses of their lives. Zeb, the conflicted introvert who shot the bird, walks away, teary-eyed and ashamed. His younger sister Willa clings to the dying creature, revealing her compassion as well as her drive. A friend to both, Brenda walks a central line, torn between attraction to Zeb and loyalty to Brenda. It is as if in these opening pages, Loren hands her readers a road map so they can chart the course of these characters’ lives from this one moment in time.
What follows is a tale of loss and absence. The now-adult Willa is an animal tracker helping to reintroduce the Mexican wolf into the United States. However, this work is interrupted when she is called back home to track her long-displaced brother Zeb, who is now a confessed murderer. Her journey home takes her physically through the familiar landscapes of her youth and mentally transports her through the memories of her childhood. The novel is told from various perspectives, which gives the reader several viewpoints into the world Loren has built. Perspectives shift between Willa, Zeb, and Brenda as their three stories diverge and intertwine.
Perhaps Theft’s greatest success is it’s tightly-wound plot. With a story as multifaceted as this, that moves through time and place, it could be easy to lose a reader. However, no page–or sentence, for that matter–feels wasted. The story is rich with objects, characters, and ideas that always find a way back to the forefront of the plot in interesting and awe-inspiring ways. In fact, the Mexican wolf that graces the cover of the novel ultimately acts as the steady heartbeat of Loren’s world. The story’s exploration of nature’s undeniable importance echoes the overall themes of loss, as shown in Willa’s quest.
These ideas are made richer due to the novel’s many voices. Shifting points of view throughout a story can be risky for an author. Voices can blend together; storylines can get confused. However, Loren has a gift for description and each of these characters jump off the page, fully realized. The novel’s pace only slows in the second act when Zeb and Willa’s stories are barreling towards one another and Brenda’s tale reemerges. Although this reunion slows the action, it feels like a necessary reprieve for the reader to catch his or her breath and take a second look at nature’s role in the book.
Ultimately, Theft accomplishes a great amount during the readers’ brief stay in its world. It evokes a deep sense of place and closeness to nature. It also begs to be reread and reexamined. The subplots and symbols are so masterfully stitched into the novel that its composition is a feat in itself. In the novel’s final moments, one cannot help but think of the injured bird and how its waning life revealed the hearts of the three major characters in just a few short pages. What follows is a quest for salvation in a mutable world, its death their first call for redemption.