Laura M Gibson Reviews THEFT by BK Loren

July 21, 2015 0 Comments Book Review 19753 Views
Cover image.

Cover from publisher’s website.

Theft by BK Loren. Counterpoint, 2012. Paperback pp. 224. $16.00. ISBN-13: 978-1582438191.

Review by Laura M Gibson

I first met BK Loren through her story “Night Flight” in the pages of Orion. About a nine-year-old boy whose parents engineer a homemade hot air balloon but have no common sense, the story involves these parents accidentally setting the balloon free over a wintery South Dakota plain with only their son aboard. Loren’s writing is spare, witty, lyrical.  Under the hood of her storytelling is a complicated engine: people’s broken relationship with each other and with wild spaces, and the ecological imperative of reconciling these severed connections.

Theft, Loren’s debut novel, doesn’t disappoint. As much about preservation – of endangered wolves, of the fragile relationships people scaffold upon the scars of youth – as it is about the way a single act of destruction can determine a person’s journey, Theft is ultimately a story of redemption.

The novel opens as eleven-year-old Willa Robbins and her fifteen-year-old brother Zeb rob a house, not because they are delinquents, but because they need money to buy medicine for their mother, who’s suffering from early, debilitating Parkinson’s. To make ends meet, their largely absent father cobbles together work selling things on the road. Willa and Zeb are left to care for their mother with slim means and no insurance. Between the rich neighborhoods they rob and the poor one where the Robbins family lives lies the abandoned house and field that once belonged to their mother’s family. “Lost” to eminent domain, on the market ever since as undesirable retail land, the abandoned space is another character in the novel. Signifying what is taken, the house and land help establish Theft’s larger questions about the ephemeral nature of ownership and existence, and the abiding power of memory.

Everything we need to know about the adults these children become occupies the beginning: Zeb’s fierce loyalty to family, his animal instinct for knowing what people hide, his innocence and wonder despite his burgeoning skill as the story’s Robin Hood; Willa’s keen eye for details, her big-hearted love for her mother and Zeb, her worry and fear nonetheless fluttering within her, a “trapped bird in [her] ribcage.” Zeb steals a gun, and the two children pedal away from the house as sirens wail. Rather than return to the safety of home, Zeb circles their getaway bike back to watch the police decipher the scene. After, the kids return home, where we meet Willa’s best friend Brenda, adopted away from a New Mexico Indian reservation by a white man too drunk too often to be much of a father.

Zeb’s savior complex gets him into further trouble when he fights with his neighbor Chet to protect Chet’s wife Dolly from her husband’s savage, public, physical abuse.  This physical confrontation is an outlet for all that enrages Zeb – his dying mother, his inability to save her, his criminalizing of Willa whom he’s taught to steal. Chet bests him and takes the gun Zeb himself has stolen, and the story with its loaded freight of conflict and an almost-smoking gun explodes from this place and leads us to the inevitable actual smoking gun –Chet’s death –and to Zeb’s flight from his family and from Colorado.

Years later, Willa works as a master tracker to secure the Mexican Wolf population in New Mexico. Highly secretive, requiring an artful balance between government agencies, success in reintroducing the wolves is dependent upon Willa’s skillful decoding of terrain and wolf behavior. In her adult life, Willa has rebuilt a tender community, and her love interest with Christina is barely begun when the authorities call Willa and ask her to return to Colorado and help track her brother Zeb, who’s confessed to killing Chet and then fled.

Willa leaves her mentor Raymond, Brenda’s biological father, in charge of safeguarding the wolves in her absence. Loren’s deft handling of reuniting Raymond and Brenda, their common cause to save an injured wolf, is clever, convincing, and pulsing with a hope that runs alongside the heartache Willa’s trek for Zeb renews.

Zeb’s adult pages illuminate the journey of a man making peace and letting go, and this journey is both a caper, reminiscent of the boy who circled back to spectate and be interviewed by police at the crime scene he created, and as serious a spiritual quest as you’ll find in fiction. Legendary among the townspeople, Zeb’s years since youth are marked by a steady stream of harmless crimes he’s never caught committing, all aimed at righting the rules for the underdog. He takes in Brenda, turned prostitute after running away from her drunk adopted father and from her biological father Raymond. But Zeb’s most at peace in the wild, and even there, still aching for the family he feels responsible for ruining, he feels the burden of all he’s carried with him as “a weave of love that knitted its way more permanently into him daily…this intense love he’d been born with living side by side with the fact that no connection ever satisfied him.” Zeb – feral, spiritual, seeking – is at his best when he’s both hunter and being hunted.

Complicated and braided, the storylines veer a little conveniently in places. We must believe that Zeb, a master tracker himself, can’t find his adult sister Willa and so confesses Chet’s murder to the police, somehow knowing they’ll send Willa to hunt him down. We must believe that Brenda, full of the “exhilaration of doing the right thing,” injures one of Willa’s wolves, an accident that brings her father Raymond back into her life. We must believe in the calculus of death laying the groundwork for new life born from what is ruinous – for the wolves and for Willa.

But this reader forgives. Loren’s fictive reckoning reminds us that what is trapped must be let free. What is owned is not necessarily ours to hold. Willa says it best as she releases her wolves back into the wild, that ribcage bird flying “again and again, and there’s soreness from the release and an emptiness in my chest, and I’m filled to the brim with all of it.”


Author Bio

Author photo.

Author photo and bio from publisher’s website.

BK LOREN has worked as a naturalist, large predator monitor for CO State Parks, professional brainstormer, assistant chef, ranch hand, furniture maker, UPS driver, and college professor. She currently teaches writing at Chatham University’s low residency program, the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and many other venues throughout the United States and Canada. She is a winner of the Mary Roberts-Rinehart National Fellowship and has also received The Dana Award for a novel-in-progress forTheft. Loren currently lives with her partner, two dogs, and two cats in Colorado.


Notable Links

Loren’s website:

Loren’s work with Center for Humans and Nature:

Loren reads “Dreaming of Dirt,” published earlier this year in Orion Magazine

Kirkus Review article:

Review: Theft, by BK Loren | The Fourth River

Review: Theft: A Novel. By BK Loren. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2012 | ISLE

B. K. Loren – Wikipedia

Reviewer Bio

Laura M Gibson is a reader for Kudzu House Quarterly and works as an editor, writer, and college admissions counselor in Idaho. She lives in a log cabin on a tiny farm with her family, wrangles a garden larger than the house, and rethinks daily her decision to include a bantam rooster in the mix. Her fiction and essays have appeared in Flyway, Carve, and The Sun, among other places.

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