Song of loss and redemption: A review of Theft

 

Theft
BK Loren
224 pages, softcover: $16.
Counterpoint, 2012.

Development's brutal erosion of the landscape is a fact of life in the West. In the hands of lesser writers, it often becomes a cliché -- shorthand for the destructive side of human nature and the grief and rage it provokes. Even when tackled by good writers, it can flatten into a monotonous, self-righteous howl of blame.

But in Theft, Colorado essayist BK Loren's first novel, the loss of nature is linked to the loss of a loved one, and grief becomes a territory to be explored. The novel's narrator, Willa Robbins, is a wildlife tracker involved in the reintroduction of the Mexican wolf to New Mexico. Then she is asked to track down her estranged brother, who is wanted for murder.

Her return to the landscape of her Colorado childhood (now built over and utterly changed) revives memories of her dead mother, her violent but beloved brother, Zeb, and their shared history of petty theft and hard choices. The connection between land and family is established early: "That land felt like blood relation to me," thinks Willa as she drives north, "a place I could never squeeze out of my bones."

The most vivid parts of the book concern her brother. As a child, she helped him rob houses by slipping into a cracked-open window "like a penny into a bank." Years later, when he's a fugitive, he overhears the police talking to his common-law wife and reflects how he and she "can read each other like rivers, the fluidity, the steadiness, the soft rage of water shaping something as solid as a rock." The landscape that enfolds the story is rich with scents, sounds and stories of its own.

Loren's novel is a meditation on what can be owned and what can be stolen -- and what can never be taken. Loss is everywhere in the book, in all its forms: theft, neglect, attrition, regret, disease, death, extinction. But so are its opposites: endurance, restoration and reinvention. From the way Willa finds comfort in the "shameful" ruin of her grandparents' condemned house, to how she eventually cobbles together a new family of friends and acquaintances, she learns how to grow from her grief. Her work with wolf reintroduction becomes a counterpoint to the tragedy of the unraveling of her family; despite the overwhelming obstacles faced by the wolves, their tentative steps toward recovery still offer a promise of renewal.

The Taylors
The Taylors Subscriber
Sep 17, 2012 08:31 PM
while the mexican wolf is certainly an endangered mammal struggleing to repopulate its historic habitat in arizona i believe the title "most endangered mammal" belongs to another arizona native, the sonoran pronghorn antelope. over in the southwestern part of arizona,on the vast cabeza prieta this mammal along with some herd in sonora is barely holding. (with the costly border fence it is hampered from migrating back & forth between az & sonora) just a quibble with the statement for this novel about which is the most endangered north american mammal?! we may have the toughest sheriff in the nation and a governor who points finger at the commander in chief, but we're darn sure doing something (attempting to) about two really endangered mammals! we're not all wierdo, finger pointers in arizona!
BK Loren
BK Loren
Sep 24, 2012 07:44 AM
Thanks for the note calling attention to the Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope. It is highly endangered and we need to work to protect it. It's a sad thing to quibble about "how endangered" a species is; but the Mexican wolf is indeed "more" endangered right now. The pronghorn numbers in the wild (up to 500,000, according to this article) are much greater than the Mexican wolf numbers (55 TOTAL in the wild--300 in rehab programs that are reluctant to release them). http://www.blueplanetbiomes[…]oran_pronghorn_antelope.htm And http://www.mexicanwolves.org/index.php/about-wolves The thing we have to do as conservationist is to work together and, yes, make all endangered species more well known to the population at large. It's when things slip away unnoticed that THEFT truly takes place, and we are left bereft without recourse, because we were unaware of things passing before our eyes.
The Taylors
The Taylors Subscriber
Sep 25, 2012 10:10 AM
howdy ms loren, i appreciate the reply and it is quibbling. much of the problem with the mexican wolf reintro (in my view) is too much resistance and ignorance (from grazing interests) and apathy (the public). what i believe we need to do is reintro the mexican wolf to multiple historic habitats. and the ranchers need to be responsible for protecting their stock with canines, range riders, adopted feral burros from blm, etc. this is my usual comment when there is a call for comments with the mexican wolf reintro. as far as the sonoran pronghorn (in the cabeza prieta and sonora, mexico areas) i believe they might be having some success with captive breeding (?), but one of the big problmes is the barrier fence that thwarts all kinds of fauna migrations. i think your comment "make all endangered species more well known" hits the nail on the head.
BK Loren
BK Loren
Sep 25, 2012 10:31 AM
Hiya Taylors! I Love this sort of dialogue. Your ideas are spot on. And I'm actually looking deeper into pronghorns now. As long as people have given me a bit of a forum, I want to use it in a positive way. Next year I'll be traveling and giving talks with a renowned biologist from Cornell University. I'm looking forward to the combined knowledge we have--and for speaking, as much as we can, to "mke all endangered species more well known." By the looks of your comment, I'm hoping you work in conservation in some way (volunteer or paid, either way). If you do, thank you so much for the work you do. And thanks again for taking the time to read the review and comment so constructively. Much appreciated.
The Taylors
The Taylors Subscriber
Sep 25, 2012 08:21 PM
howdy ms loren, we have done volunteer work for both az game & fish and blm's wild horse & burro program (thus my previous comment to utilize wild burros as guards in with livestock as they have a natural defensiveness toward canines i.e. mexican wolf). speaking of cornell university, several years ago i did volunteer work for az game & fish desert tortoise program and i vaguely recall that it was cornell university with us in the field performing ultrasounds on female tortoises that we brought to the camp from their burrows!! you may wanna ask your biologist from cornell if they have assisted azgfd with the tortoise project near sugarloaf mtn, next to ft mcdowell indian res? with az game & fish we also volunteered time & effort to reintro and intro 2 species of native fish in a riparian canyon south of superior, az. talk about forgotton wildlife. native fish have very little audience. they aren't too watchable, cuddly, or whatever attracts so they are all but forgotton! i'm not sure if this response is all appropriate as i am directing it to you, but i hope others read and join this forum. i suppose it is acceptable to hcn?
BK Loren
BK Loren
Sep 26, 2012 10:05 AM
I think as long as we remain respectful, anything can be posted here. And I do hope others read what you have written, too. Yes, my friend was involved in the tortoise reintroduction--if you are speaking of the Bolson's Tortoise. The Bolson's also appears in THEFT, as does mention of Pleistocene Rewilding, something controversial that fascinates me. The Bolson's, technically, is part of that, I believe. And yes, "uncharismatic" animals--fish, snakes, etc.--often get left out of the sentimental side of the conservation movement. But I do believe people are beginning to see nature and wildlife as a weave, working toward something more whole. That's my hope, anyway, and I'm sticking to it! Thanks again.