cover image The Leopard Is Loose

The Leopard Is Loose

Stephen Harrigan. Knopf, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-65577-0

Harrigan makes a welcome return to fiction after Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas with a deeply felt story inspired by a leopard that escaped from the Oklahoma City Zoo in 1952. Five-year-old Grady McClarty lives with his older brother, Danny, and their widowed mother. Grady is riveted by the press coverage of the missing leopard and is afraid of being attacked by it. He’s also puzzled by the behavior of his uncles, Emmett and Frank, combat veterans having trouble adjusting to civilian life. Frank drinks too much and gets fired from his car dealership job, while Emmett is stuck working as a draftsman when he’d prefer to be an artist. But the uncles dote on both boys, and when Grady suggests they join the leopard hunt, the men agree. Danny insists he sees the animal through some trees, and Emmett’s armed pursuit of what turns out to be a Black man’s dog inadvertently ignites the tensions that have been simmering in the city all summer. Though the racial issues are unsatisfyingly relegated to a plot point, Grady is an appealing narrator, and Harrigan elegantly conveys the strength of family bonds. Readers who can overlook a few narrative wobbles will find plenty of heart. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM Partners. (Jan.)