The size and stability of the American middle class were once the envy of the world. But changes unleashed in the 1960s pitted Americans against one another politically in new and destructive ways. These battles continued to rage from that day to now, while everyone has fallen behind economically except the wealthy. Right-wing culture warriors blamed the decline on the moral shortcomings of "other" Americans - black people, feminists, gays, immigrants, union members - to court a fearful white working- and middle-class base with ever more bitter "us vs. them" politics.
Khoa and his grandfather, Tristian, are thought to be the last two descendants of an ancient pack of white wolves who followed "the way of the wolf". As the novel opens, Tristian lies dying, having been torn apart by the pack, for teaching Khoa "the way", which is now forbidden. The old wolf sends Khoa on a quest to find a watcher wolf, a book, and a society of white wolves; none of which may exist. As Khoa escapes through a mole tunnel that his grandfather had prepared for him, the pack waits outside the hut to "set upon him".