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Ordinary Wolves: A Novel (Milkweed National Fiction Prize) Hardcover – April 18, 2004

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Product Details

  • Series: Milkweed National Fiction Prize
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions (April 18, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1571310444
  • ISBN-13: 978-1571310446
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.3 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,279 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the small but growing genre of ecological fiction, the great challenge is to balance political and environmental agendas with engrossing storytelling. This riveting first novel sets a new standard, offering a profound and beautiful account of a boy's attempt to reconcile his Alaskan wilderness experience with modern society. Abe Hawcly came to Alaska in search of his bush-pilot father, became enraptured with the wilderness, then moved there with his wife to live in a sod igloo and subsist on his hunting skills while he pursued his painting. Soon disenchanted with isolation and hardship, his wife abandoned him, leaving him to rear and educate their three children. Abe's youngest child, known by his Iñupiaq name, Cutuk, grows to manhood and learns to hunt, gaining an intimate knowledge of the frozen tundra. Eventually, Cutuk's brother, Jerry, escapes to Fairbanks, and his sister, Iris, attends college and becomes a teacher. Meanwhile, torn between two cultures, Cutuk chafes under discrimination as a white in the midst of Native Americans; he is deprived of both rights and respect by the locals. He also develops a profound curiosity about the city, but once he makes it to Anchorage, he is bewildered and confused by urban slang and modern mores. His attempts to reconcile himself to his own race fail dismally as he is drawn back to the north and the values inherent in the wilderness ("I shook my head, trying to align the years, the Taco Bells, exit ramps, rabid foxes, and this old pot"). Though Cutuk's gnawing angst occasionally grows tedious, this is a tenderly and often beautifully written first novel. As a revelation of the devastation modern America brings to a natural lifestyle, it's a tour de force and may be the best treatment of the Northwest and its people since Jack London's works.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School - This exciting story of a white boy growing up in a sod igloo in remote northern Alaska challenges any romantic ideas about life on the last American frontier. Cutuk and his older brother and sister are being raised by their father, who has totally rejected modern American society in favor of a culture of self-reliance in the wilderness. Cutuk wants desperately to be accepted by the village Inupiaks, who ridicule and harass him as an outsider. Village life is not a pretty picture with its alcohol abuse, rape, incest, and family violence, but Cutuk cherishes the old ways and respects the elders. His siblings grow up and leave for the cities, and in his early 20s he leaves for Anchorage. He comes to realize that he doesn't fit in there either and finally returns to the village to make a place for himself. The episodic novel has a connecting thread throughout as Cutuk continues to search for an old Eskimo hunter who befriended his family and then disappeared. There is an interesting contrast between the protagonist's preference for the indigenous lifestyle and the Inupiaks' adoption of American fast food, gadgets, and fads. Kantner gives readers many exciting and realistic views of everyday life in the igloo; hunting wolves, caribou, and bear; and traveling by dogsled and snowmobile in the dark northern tundra. A valuable story about a boy trying to find his place in the world. - Penny Stevens, Andover College, Portland, ME
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Customer Reviews

The story is rich with details of his everyday life.
Linda Linguvic
It has a dark undercurrent that is both powerful and beautiful, yet Kantner has a deft way with humor and irony as well.
Jim Dau
Ordinary Wolves is a brilliant work of life in Alaska.
Don Watson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By B. Capossere TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Ordinary Wolves turns much of what one would expect to read about the "natural and native" life in Alaska on its head and in so doing has crafted a strong first novel that more than overcomes its flaws. The story focuses on Cutuk, a white boy who lives outside an Inupiaq village with his sister and brother (both older) and his father, who brought them all (plus their mother who left when Cutuk was very young) to Alaska where he paints and lives close to the land. We watch Cutuk grow from five or so to young adulthood, wrestling with his place in the world, torn between the wilderness and the city, between modern life and more traditional life, between white and Inuit. In between chapters following Cutuk, we are treated to beautifully written passages set in the animal world and so like Cutuk, we move between the world of humans and the wild.

Part of the joy of wolves is the way expectations are turned around on the reader. In this novel, Cutuk's family is more "native" than most of the natives. They live the old way, out of the village in "camp", eschewing the motorized "sno-go's" in favor of dogs, trapping in the old style, living in a sod home. This is not the romanticized Alaska. It is a gritty, dark view of the life there, filled with drugs, suicides, domestic abuse, alcoholism, cruelty to animal, sardonic portrayals of white "native lovers" or "animal lovers"(Despite this, the tone itself is rarely as dark, a skillful maneuver on the author's part).
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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful By James Magdanz on May 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Two days now, he's made me late for my government job, this Cutuk Kanter. I should be parked in front of the blue Dell glow. Instead I'm lying on my couch under the south window of my suburban Crotch City house, warming in the Arctic Sun, and reading a True story - a shrew story - about life in the North.
Publisher's Weekly says Cutuk's the best since Jack London, which says a mouthful about the sorry state of Northern fiction. This is not Jack London. Not John McPhee. Not, God fobid, James Michener or Peter Jenkins. This is where Jack Kerouac and Nanook lock eyes and walk away together. Don't expect the whole story. This is the cracks between the logs, the vole holes in the floor, the leaks in the sod, the spiders in the corner, the all encompassing entropy so few escape. The tourism people down in Juneau are not going to like it. It's not the prettied-up Alaska they sell to the Princess herds on the freshly washed buses. This is the other Alaska, the Alaska we live in every day after the tourists have disappeared into the sky, after the Eskimo girls have taken off their fancy quspuqs and dancy mukluks and lit up a joint. If you live in Crotch City and this book makes you mad, good. Only don't be mad at Cutuk. He just wrote it all down.
What I don't get about this book, though, is why the Wolf on the cover is upside down. It's either the Wolf or the title, one of um's upside down. `Splain that, Cutuk. Nah, let `em try make it pretty. Whadda they know?
Alaska has never had a book like this before. How come it took you so long, Cutuk?
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Faye A. Harasack on May 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
it's a well-written, unromanticized, fascinating window on life in Alaska, written by someone who knows what it's like first-hand. As an Alaska resident for more than 20 years myself, I can tell you that the details in this novel ring true.
The book addresses lots of "issues": the disconnect between rural and urban life, the effect of modernization on traditional lifestyles, the moral questions posed by the "footprint" we humans leave on the wilderness. But this isn't a book about issues. The author has a good ear for dialogue, and his characters are people the reader comes to care about. The protagonist, Cutuk, an outsider in rural Alaska because of his race, and a misfit in the city because of his upbringing, is easy to identify with, if you've ever felt yourself on the outside looking in. His experiences are sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes comic, but always absorbing.
As a counterpoint to his account of Cutuk's struggle to feel at home in the world, the author gives us short chapters every once in a while that recount the lives of the animals on the land. In contrast to the sometimes-agonized interiority of modern human life, the animals simply are. Kantner, a talented wildlife photographer, has an eye that has learned to see the reality, bloody and beautiful, of the Alaskan wilderness. His words give us a chance to experience that world too, and to remember that human life, loves and conflicts are not the only game in town. There's more going on in the universe than just our own life stories, and this book reminds us to step back and take a broader view.
Read this book for a window on a world most people probably won't get to experience. Read it because it will make you ask yourself questions. Read it because, once you pick it up, you won't want to put it down!
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