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Ordinary Wolves (Milkweed National Fiction Prize) Hardcover – 20 May 2004


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions (20 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1571310444
  • ISBN-13: 978-1571310446
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 16 x 23.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,996,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bonnie Smith on 7 Mar 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book was in good condition. The story captivated me and very well written, I couldn't put it down. While usually I am a slow reader who finds it hard to take in words,sort of (lack of memory-caused by having epilepsy all my life, maybe on a par with hidden dyslexia). Still I loved being taken into an artic world, how a person from a world I see as glistening snow ,all beautiful, shows the real hardships of this other world. Any-one interested in geography,who likes getting away from it all and being remote(or just dreaming that's what they'd like to do), artic traveling, or natural wonders of our planet, will be interested, to read what it's really like to grow up in such a remote place.Recommended
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By kathrynt aylor on 23 Mar 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Loved it! Read it in a weekend and I haven't done that with a novel for some time. Worth a look.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 65 reviews
46 of 47 people found the following review helpful
unique pov and strong character overcome flaws--a good read 28 Aug 2004
By B. Capossere - Published on Amazon.com
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). So while the city is as physically and socially ugly as one would expect in a "country-city" novel, it also has friends and at times its own sort of beauty and so the contrast isn't as simple as usual in these sort of works

Cutuk is an easy character to care about and his coming-of-age story is realistically and tenderly conveyed. We get to know him intimately. His father is also a wonderful character but remains a bit mysterious, a bit of an enigma to both Cutuk and the reader. On the one hand it would be nice to know more about him, to see more deeply into him, but the sense of distance works in the novel and has something equally appealing about it. His brother and sister disappear a bit too quickly and are off stage a bit too much, as are a few of the other side characters. a strong exception is Enuk, an elder native hunter whom Cutuk idolizes as a youth and who is drawn in wonderfully sharp detail, exerting a presence even when he isn't there.

There are some minor pacing issues. Cutuk's introspective passages on not fitting in sometimes get a little repetitive. There are a few spots where the book lags and it probably could have benefited from more stringent editing. But these flaws are more than outweighed by the book's strengths: strong characterization of both Cutuk and his father, beautifully lyrical descriptive prose focusing on the animals, the depth and variety of emotions conveyed, and the underlying deep questions of who am I, how do we balance the modern and the traditional, the sense of self and the desire for society, the natural and the technological, the desire for comfort and the wish to do as little harm in the world as possible?

Read through the few rough patches, enjoy the ride with Cutuk, and let the book's deeper questions linger. It's well worth the read. Strong recommendation.
64 of 72 people found the following review helpful
No Ordinary Book 16 May 2004
By James Magdanz - Published on Amazon.com
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?
25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Read this book because 16 May 2004
By Faye A. Harasack - Published on Amazon.com
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!
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
An original story with literary surprises; awe-inspiring 28 Oct 2004
By D. A. Matthew - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I've been in search for good, so-called "environmental" novels for a while. This was a superb choice. It did the job of telling a story about humans who live in deep connection to the earth and its creatures and who therefore exhibit a supreme value for the planet, but without preaching about their own moral righteousness. Cutuk occasionally starts to vent about "Everything-wanters", but he cuts himself off just in time.

I've got a Ph.D. in English Lit, and let me say just one thing Kantner does that is unique. Throughout the story a few real suspenseful, life-and-death moments happen leaving the reader with a true cliffhanger at the end of a chapter or section. But in the chapter/section (they're not numbered) that follows the cliffhanger, the reader does not find out about how the situation was resolved for quite some time. It's as if the writer is saying, "You know, life went on, and that big exciting moment just proved to be another moment in life, one that we remember but not one that contains all the meaning to life." It was a refreshingly new way to read a plot.

I hope to read more from Kantner; I hope he hasn't spilled out all his life's best in this first work.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Kantner Gets It 18 July 2004
By Nick Jans - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As a longtime resident of arctic Alaska and a professional writer, I have to say that Seth Kantner has captured both the landscape and the people of modern bush Alaska as no other writer of fiction has. Bold words, perhaps, but not hyperbole. The details are gritty, authentic, and unflinching, and the prose from which the narrative is woven is inventive, lyrical, witty, and often flat-out gorgeous. The characters are compelling and feel drawn from life. This is enough to allow the reader to forgive some loose ends in the story line. Few first novels are so accomplished or deserving of recognition--especially coming from an unheralded writer from a small press. Whether you love Alaska, have a taste for literary fiction, or are just a fan of superb prose, you should read this book. Better yet, buy it.
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