With their mother dying a slow death from Parkinsons’s and their salesman father on the road trying to earn enough money to keep the family solvent, young Willa Robbins and her idolized older brother Zeb are left to fend for themselves in the Colorado prairie town where they grow up. Each cares deeply for the mother and embraces a different approach to helping her. Kind, impressionable Willa serves as a young helpmate, eager to do her mother’s bidding. Zeb, who is wild and tough and outfitted with a heart of gold ─ a tragic combination ─ tries to garner the money for much needed medication through thievery.
By the time the two leave their childhoods behind their mother has died, and each of them is burdened with a heavy secret of something done that cannot be undone. Willa becomes an ace tracker, involved with the preservation of the Mexican gray wolf and the determined effort to establish her own life in New Mexico. After Zeb confesses his wrongful deed to authorities, Willa is lured back to Colorado to track him with the knowledge that if the sheriff and his men find her brother before she does, they will shoot to kill.
Loren’s debut novel zig zags in time and point of view and accomplishes a good deal. She writes beautifully both of human longing and the natural world, creating lingering memories of a disjointed and harsh childhood while subtly informing the reader about important environmental issues and the complex politics of wildlife management. Her imagery is often stunning. In one of the most memorable scenes, young Willa snags a fish at the local pond and then watches as it struggles to free itself until finally the line snaps. Within an hour she’s in church and thinking about Jesus as a fisher of men. She imagines him reeling a line out over the congregation — like a well-stocked pond — and hooking her mother’s uplifted hands, and she prays that her mother will struggle free like the fish she caught that morning.
Themes of family connectedness form the foundation of Theft, but the book also testifies to the majesty and harshness of the American wilderness, a place that most never see and few truly understand.