ORDINARY WOLVES

Seth Kantner, Author
Seth Kantner, Author . Milkweed $22 (352p) ISBN 978-1-57131-044-6
Reviewed on: 05/03/2004
Release date: 04/01/2004
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-6996-4
Paperback - 330 pages - 978-1-57131-047-7
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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. Agent. Sydelle Kramer at the Frances Goldin Agency . (May)

Forecast: Early buzz—the novel has been selected for Barnes & Noble's Discover Great New Writers Program and highly praised by Barbara Kingsolver ("exotic as a dream, acrid and beautiful and honest as life")—an author tour and BEA appearance should help put Kantne r on the map. His own story, which is similar to Cutuk's, makes him an attractive interview prospect.

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