Cover image for Ordinary wolves
Ordinary wolves
Kantner, Seth, 1965-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Minneapolis : Milkweed Editions, [2004]

Physical Description:
324 pages ; 24 cm
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.0 16.0 88822.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Library
FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Stirring and vivid, this evocative novel depicts the life of a white boy raised among natives on the harsh Alaskan tundra.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Impressively fluent and probing first-time novelist Kantner tracks a boy named Cutuk's rocky journey into adulthood in an episodic, avidly detailed, and many-faceted tragicomedy of Alaskan life. Growing up in the unforgiving wilderness with his back-to-the-land artist father and siblings, Cutuk learns all the traditional skills necessary for living off the tundra and develops an abiding love for wolves. But Cutuk is white, and although he reveres traditional native Alaskan ways and wants to be a great hunter, he remains an outsider. Then when the 1970s bring radical change even to this distant realm and his indigenous neighbors trade in their dogsleds for snowmobiles, he becomes even more of an anachronism. So he tries his luck in Anchorage, discovers an alien form of wilderness, and hastily acquires a whole new set of survival skills. At every turn, Kantner fearlessly orchestrates dramatic communions between humans and the wild, hilarious incidents of culture shock, and profound inquiries into how one can live a meaningful life and do as little harm as possible to the earth and to others. Kantner's cultural insight, daring wit, and ecological vision echo those of Sherman Alexie, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Barbara Kingsolver and add up to an exciting and potentially riling debut. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 I?upiaq 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 Kantner on the map. His own story, which is similar to Cutuk's, makes him an attractive interview prospect. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In poetic detail, first novelist Kantner captures the rhythms and textures of life out beyond civilization in northern Alaska. The narrative follows Cutuk Hawcly from the early 1970s, when he is five years old and living in the remote Alaskan outback, through his mid-twenties, as he travels to Anchorage for a brief and disorienting interlude, to his return to the far north. The plot is driven by Cutuk's hunt for a mysteriously vanished old hunter who had presented him with a talisman carved from mammoth ivory and his efforts to establish a relationship with a woman named Dawna, with whom he has been in love since they were children. Cutuk feels himself an outsider, distanced not only from modern civilization but also from his own society as a minority white person in the middle of Inupiak culture. The real depth of the novel is provided in the many scenes of a lone human out on his own in the frozen wilds, hunting caribou, stalking wolves, riding either a dog sled or a "snowgo," and dealing with an icy and forbidding environment that is nevertheless in many ways more amenable than contemporary urban America. Recommended for all collections.-Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. Lib. at Oneonta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.