Willa Robbins is a master tracker working to reintroduce the Mexican wolf, North America’s most endangered mammal, to the American Southwest. But when Colorado police recruit her to find her own brother, Zeb, a confessed murderer, she knows skill alone will not sustain her. Willa is thrown back into the past, surfacing memories of a childhood full of intense love, desperate mistakes, and gentle remorse. Trekking through exquisite New Mexico and Colorado landscapes, with Zeb two steps ahead and the police two steps behind, Willa must wrangle her desire to reunite with her brother and her own guilt about their violent past.
Winner of both the Willa Award and Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Award, this debut novel's lyrical prose gives voice to the wildlife and land surrounding these beautifully flawed characters, breathing life into the southwestern terrain. Within this treacherous and mesmerizing landscape, Theft illustrates the struggle to piece together the fragile traces of what has been left behind, allowing for new choices to take shape. This is a story about family, about loss, and about a search for answers.
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
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 for Theft. Loren currently lives with her partner, two dogs, and two cats in Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
Riding through the tall-grass sweetness of the Colorado prairie, wheat stalks whipping my legs and the whir of insectsa high-pitched buzz buzz buzzturning me dizzy under that white-yellow heat pouring through the blue sky. My brother Zeb, three years older than me and in high school by now, pedals while I hold tight to his belt loops. It’s my bike he’s riding, used to be his before he handed it down to me last week for my twelfth birthday, but he rides it like it was still his own, crosses the field and pedals into the neighborhood where the houses are tall and the lawns take up a whole block of land. He slams the brakes on the bike, hops off, lets it fall. “Come on,” he says. He stretches his arm out behind him for me to hold his hand. We walk to the side of the house, climb the stairs to the back deck, and he hands me the greasy thick gel, tells me to slather it on, “No gloves, we’re pros,” he says. We leave no prints, no evidence.
He tells me to slip through the barely open window, I’m small enough, and my body is limber and lithe, even for a kid my age. I slip like a penny into a bank, like a rabbit into a hole, and I drop down into another world, furniture I never did see beforedark, heavy wood bed, chest of drawers, shining oak floorsand the sunlight has all day been fingering its way between the gap in the closed curtains making the wood smell the way only wood smells in the heat, something smoldering. It brims in my nostrils.
On a stand next to a cushioned chair there’s a pair of glasses. Black rims, smudged lenses, across the back of the chair a leather belt, the third hole sticking out like a belly button, the notch there worn deep, someone’s hands cinching that belt every morning, gut hanging over, white sports shirt tucked in, I can see it all. It’s my shortcoming, says Zeb. I see the people who live in a place, not their belongings, and I’ve got no eye for stealing. But I’m learning.
I stay put, like Zeb says. I watch him move, smooth as a fish in water, see him slinking down the long hallway, his J.C. Penney jeans too loose and his black T-shirt too tight, Marlboros rolled up in the sleeve, and the muscles in his bony arms tight as rubber bands. “Stay there,” he calls again, and I shove my greasy hands in my pockets, and the room grows around me huge. I think of Mom. She’s the one we’re doing all this for, but she doesn’t know we’re here.
“Hello,” I call out, just to hear my own voice echo in the space of this huge place.
“What the hell you hollering at, Willa?” Zeb’s voice booms all the way down the long hallway.
I listen. I hear him rummaging through the drawers and closets, careful and fast as he is, a pro. Then I hear something different, a distinct ringing. “You hear that, Zeb?” I stand stock-still, alone in the big room.
“Didn’t hear nothing but your goddamned bellowing, Willa.”
I know Zeb when he’s concentrating. Like I said, he’s a fish under water and he can’t hear a thing. But I know I heard something, makes my bones feel like rubber melting in hot sun, tickling from the inside out. Doesn’t matter. I stand stiff and strong, nothing showing, no fear when you look at me, but there’s a bird trapped in my body. I can feel it fluttering in my chest, batting crazy against the walls of my ribcage, caught in too small a space.
I tiptoe over and look out the front window. It’s big enough so I can see all the way down the block. No kids playing, like where we live. No bicycles or heaps of tires on front lawns, no tag or jump rope going on in the streets. Eerie place, if you ask me, but I figure Zeb’s right. He’s usually right. There’s nothing to be afraid of, no one coming, and the ringing I heard was just fear buzzing in my head. A thief’s got no use for fear.
I take a deep breath. I feel the bird in my chest fold its wings, rest on the branches of my lungs, quiet. Without the cage of my hollowed chest, that bird would fly. But it stays. It rests. I tuck my legs under me and I start to sit down, and just then the phone rings clear as Sunday morning bells, sends me like a pea in a slingshot back to where Zeb’s working. His backpack is stuffed full already, and the room he’s in is ransacked. Clothes torn from closets, drawers emptied, anything good selected out, the rest left to the owners.
“What the hell, Willa?”
“They know we’re here, Zeb.”
“I don’t know. But they’re calling.”
Zeb walks to the phone, puts his hand on the receiver, pretends to pick it up. “Hello,” he says. “Willa Robbins? Yes, she’s right here.”
The phone stops ringing. Zeb laughs. “No one knows we’re here, Willa. It’s just the phone ringing.” He bends down, slips his hand into the pocket of my jeans, drops something inside. “For Mom,” he says. “Make her feel pretty.”
I pull a gold and sapphire necklace from my pocket and just looking at it socks me in the chest. To see Mom have a reason to wear this, a place to go where she would feel beautiful and graceful and not ugly and twisted up with Parkinson’s like she is, the thought of it weakens me. The jewels shimmer like her eyes. Zeb winks at me, then walks out. He moves fast and focused, opens the door of the next room down the hallway, and I’m alone again in this place that’s as ransacked as the old farmhouse in the field we crossed to get here. Mom was born and raised in that farmhouse, part of a homestead sometime last century, she says, and she stayed there till my grandparents died and Zeb was born. Couple years after that, Mom and Dad lost it to something they called “eminent domain” so the City could build stores there instead of houses, and that property has been sitting with a FOR SALE billboard on it ever since. Years now and that field has never sold. “As if someone’s just going to happen by it and see it for sale out here in the middle of nowhere,” Dad says almost every time he’s home for dinner, which is not often, because he’s always on the road, selling things door-to-door.
“Going to pave that road and make it a major thoroughfare, turn our old house into a nice shopping center,” Mom says back to him every time. But neither one of them keeps that conversation going. They just keep saying those same two sentences about it, again and again.
There are still signs of Mom’s family living in that ramshackle place, the roof all collapsed in on itself now, one of those farm houses you see that sags like a swayback mare, both of them good for nothing, people say. The windowpanes are all broken out, and there are no doors, and the walls are only half-standing, so you can just walk on in and see the cobwebbed containers still sitting there on the rotted-out remnants of the kitchen counter. There’s a rocking chair that creaks and rocks on its own, too, no one rocking it, and strands of tattered curtains blow in the breeze.
All the kids in our neighborhood play in that old house and me and Zeb have sworn not to tell it was where Mom lived when she was growing up, because it’s shameful, she says, to lose a place like that to eminent domain, just a fancy way of saying the place was condemned, she says. But everyone knows anyway, even if we don’t say it out loud. We take turns walking through the empty house, see who can stay inside the longest without getting spooked by a ghost, which is usually just some crow flying through, or a field mouse scurrying past. All the same there’s some kind of presence there, and we feel it.
It’s like me and Zeb in this house now. Whoever lives here will feel the ghost of us when they come back, find their home torn open like a wound, their belongings no longer private. I ball my right hand into a fist, feel the weight of the sapphire necklace there. “Mom doesn’t need jewelry, Zeb. She needs to get healed,” I call down the hallway.
“What the hell you think I’m working on, Willa?”
“Johnny’s Pharmacy’s right up the hill from us.”
He comes down the hallway now, leans in close to my face, and whispers. “You think I don’t know that, Willa? You think breaking into a business like that is easy? Hell, I get enough money and we can buy her the help she needs, right? We can buy it.” He huffs a little, stands up straight again. “Nothing wrong with having her feel pretty while she’s waiting to get better.”
He heads back down the hall, and I open my palm, look at the necklace. He’s right. It would look beautiful on Mom. The decision’s tough to make, but I make it. I tuck that piece of jewelry into the gap between the mattress and headboard of the bed. It could have fallen there. That’s what the mother who lives here will think when she finds it. It must have fallen that night I was getting ready to go out. I don’t want Mom wearing it anyway, not after this other lady’s had it around her perfumed neck for so many years.
After I hide the necklace, I hear the ringing again, fainter this time. But there’s no sense telling Zeb about it. I walk back out to the living room and wait. I stand there shivering in the smoldering heat.
A few minutes later, Zeb walks down the hall, stands next to me. He opens his canvas knapsack, shows me the stack of green bills therescattered tens and twenties. All that cash sitting on top of the fishing bait, the cheese balls, salmon eggs and night crawlers. There’s a stench to the thing, let me tell you, and the house too hot and stuffy inside to begin with. The smell gets caught in the place where my nose meets my throat, sticks in that soft spot where I can’t swallow it down or make it come up.
Zeb reaches deeper into his knapsack, pulls back the top layer of money and jewelry. He shows me a gun so small the whole thing could fit in my hand. Its snub-nosed silver barrel is engraved all the way to the place where the bullet comes out, ivory white handle engraved too.
“You can’t take that,” I tell him.
“Thirty-eight special, Smith and Wesson. Custom collector’s item. You bet I’m taking it. It’s what I came for.” He covers the gun back up, then hands me a ten-dollar bill and rests his hand on my shoulder. “Buy yourself something good with that, Willa.”
“How’d you know that thing was here?”
“I always know what I’m looking for.”
“Yeah, but how’d you know?”
“I knew. That’s all. Let’s go.”
We walk out the front door, back door makes us look suspicious, Zeb says. He walks proud, like he owns this house. He hops on his bike, and I take my seat behind him, holding his waist as he pedals, and I hear the sirens starting up. “Goddamnit, Zeb, they’re coming, just like I said.”
“Pedal fast,” I tell him, looking over my shoulder, waiting for the red lights to bear down on us.
He pedals, and I feel the weight of our take in his knapsack, hear the gun clinking against the fishing bait and tackle, and I try
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
How many books have you read lately that you can say that about: A Story That Stays With You?" Finally, a book and story of substance! I lose count of how many vapid or insipid books I've struggled through or half-finished. BK Loren's writing is so beautiful and images so vibrant that I alternated between slowly savoring the story to racing through chapters because I couldn't wait to see what happens next. My emotions ran the gamut while reading Theft. I cried, I laughed, I sat on the edge of my seat. I felt wonder. "Theft" is about family and all its complications. It's about wolves and the desert. It's about mountains and forests and American Indians. It's about disease and conservation. It's about brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. It's about hope. If you enjoy a well-told story with gorgeous images and wonderful turns-of-phrases (many I'll quote in conversation first chance!), read "Theft." It's the best book I've read in a long, long time.
BK, I really liked the book. I'm like Borges. If I don't like a book, I don't finish it. In fact I can't. I've had a book on the shelf for 20 years written by a good friend of mine, with a handwritten dedication, and I can't get past the first chapter. Yours was full of passages that made me stop just to admire them. The whole thread about fishing, slipping the hook, and Jesus the fisherman: the evocation of Nature and our place in it and our relations to other creatures in so many places: the riffs on memory and storytelling: lines like "I don't think anyone ever does someone else's dying right". Believe me, my wife's dying can support that with 20 anecdotes. "Because there's more truth than the actual facts of a story can ever tell." If you can sum up your thoughts about a book and put them down concisely, either it wasn't a good book or you didn't get it. Cliff's notes and New Yorker long form reviews aren't the book. I'm just overflowing with reactions to Theft and keep thinking of more faster than I can type. My dog is more important to me than almost any person in my life, she's 8 and a half, not in any sort of crisis, but the thought of her dying is unbearable to me, always with me, and makes me doubt my ability to go on without her when the time comes. I've had a lot of well-meaning advice from friends, other dog owners, my brother, my doctor and yes, even a therapist. None of it at all relevant or useful to me. Theft gave me some peace. Muchas gracias.