Published by Delacorte Press
416 pages, 1998
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Read a profile of Nicholas Evans
Read a review of The Horse Whisperer
The Wolf Whisperer?
On closer inspection and more thorough reading, however, one discovers that The Loop is no sort of literary nod to an earlier blockbuster. The Loop is tighter, cleaner and an altogether better story than Evans' sentimental 1995 debut. Rather than being a poor copy of The Horse Whisperer, this new book is perhaps more the book that could have been.
British born and dwelling Evans no doubt did a lot of research in Montana to make Whisperer work, and none of it has been wasted in this new book. Evans locations ring as true as his characterizations in this book. The rich descriptions of the habits of many wild animals -- especially wolves -- are beautifully written and incorporated. You don't get the feeling you're being fed on hours of dry research. Rather his story works around and with the wolves. They are, in essence, the stars of the story.
The humans are richer this time around as well. Evans gives us a good group of believable characters with valid reasons for intruding on our time. They interact in very human ways, leading this reader to believe that Evans is at least as good a student of human nature as he is of that belonging to animals. And while these characters behave in very understandable and human ways, they do do neither illogical or predictable things: something that keeps the story compelling throughout.
The Loop mostly takes place in the fictional town of Hope, Montana where a pack of wolves makes a sudden and savage appearance. The alpha male nearly makes off with the grandson of the area's leading ranchers, Buck Calder. Calder is, as one character describes him, "...a real piece of work." Charismatic, powerful and reasonably devoid of morals, Calder is one of the most likable characters I've ever hated in fiction: his personal power fairly leaps off the page. Buck's son Luke is the logical but unlikely offspring of the driven rancher. Luke is gentle and -- in his father's eyes -- utterly flawed. "A born bunny hugger," Calder senior remarks a couple of times, in disgust.
Luke befriends the woman sent to get the local wolf problem under control. Wolf biologist Helen Ross has real passion and understanding for the wolves she would protect. Ross is strong and feminine with a biting sense of humor: the combination made her -- for me -- one of the best female characters to appear in popular fiction in the last couple of years. There is a naturalness in Evans' depiction of Ross that indicates complete understanding. In one scene Ross is attacked by a nasty rancher's dogs after the rancher himself has practically run her off his place. Driving her beat up Toyota truck back to her cabin, Ross "cried almost all the way home." And there is nothing of weakness in the tears she sheds: it is perhaps even a strength, because she has the outlet for the frustration she feels.
Dan Prior is the man responsible for bringing Ross to Hope. The local head of the wolf recovery team of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Prior had worked with Ross years before and knew of her expertise. Prior is another likable character who is well cast and written. Prior seems the ultimate Fish & Wildlife guy: married to his job and utterly solid and dependable. The kind of guy you'd want on the other end of a wolf trap, if you had to set one.
The Loop's story doesn't revolve around any of these characters, though it involves all of them, plus a few others. This story stars more of an ensemble cast and the subplots are legion and well incorporated. There are those problem wolves as well as the ranchers that hate them and the environmentalists -- a few eco-terrorists among them -- who begin their own little war. There is Helen Ross and her passion for wolves. Luke Calder fights the good fight of living in a powerful man's shadow and under his influence. Poor Dan Prior fights just to have a life. Evans displays a remarkable ability in sliding into each of his important characters when the story is being told from their point of view.
The Loop is evidence that Nicholas Evans is a stronger, more confident writer today than he was when he wrote The Horse Whisperer. Gone is the saccharine sentimentality and the annoying tugging of heartstrings that overshadowed a great deal of what was good about that earlier book. The Loop is a book that should make his growing lines of fans very happy: it's a more mature book that will ensure Evans a place among today's top storytellers. | October 1998
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine. Her fourth novel, Death was the Other Woman, will be published early in 2008 by St. Martin's Minotaur.