Seth Kantner,
Ordinary Wolves
(Milkweed, 2004)

Seth Kantner's Ordinary Wolves is a moving tale I was reluctant to see end.

The novel centers around Clayton "Cutuk" Hawcly, a young man torn between two cultures, unable to fit into either. Raised in the Alaskan bush by a painter father whose wife -- apparently unable to cope with life in the wilderness -- has deserted her family and never reappears except in thought, the boy longs to become Inupiaq so he can fit into the society closest to him or to achieve the social skills which allow his older brother and sister to feel comfortable in native and white society.

Though he envies his father's artistic ability and woodscraft, he views him more as friend than parent. His hero is the native elder, Enuk Wolfsglove, and he grows up wanting to become a hunter like him.

After Enuk disappears and is feared dead, Cutuk goes to Anchorage, still in search of meaning and purpose for his life. There he sees the ugliness of "Everything-wanter" society but also finds friends and even a bit of love.

Finally he returns home. There after witnessing again the harsh reality of what the white man's civilization has done to the spirit of his beloved native people and realizing that the days of the hunter-hero are past, Hawcly visits his father and then goes off on a solitary pilgrimage into the wilderness he loves. There he experiences an epiphany that gives him a realization of self and a hope for the future.

Seth Kantner is Alaska born and bred and his personal experiences show his understanding of this land and its people. I look forward to reading more from him.

- Rambles
written by John R. Lindermuth
published 23 April 2005

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