Seth Kantner was an invited author at The Nature of Words this year. I finally got around to reading his novel Ordinary Wolves. This debut novel is set in Northern Alaska and follows Catuk Hawcly, an Alaskan-born white boy. Catuk lives with his father, brother, and sister, and they are a two-day dog sled ride from the nearest village. It was difficult at first for me to follow Catuk as a young boy.
Here’s a passage that made much more sense to me when I re-read it after finishing the book:
“It was hard to look at Enuk – or any traveler – in the eyes after seeing no people for weeks. It was hard to speak and not run and hide again. Enuk’s frost-scarred face betrayed mysteries and romantic hard times that drew a five-year-old boy with swollen dreams.” … “ The day I turned old I was going to be Enuk. Small discrepancies left footprints in my faith, such as the fact that he was Eskimo and I seemed to be staying naluaġmiu. But years lined up ahead, promising time for a cure.”
It is a coming-of- age story. When Catuk tries to live in Anchorage you really get more of a sense of him and how isolated he’s been. He physically fits in better in Anchorage, but is constantly trying to figure out people.
“I paused in coffee shops, eavesdropping, trying to emulate, acclimate, relate. I watched the caribou – the average people grazing through their days – men who griped about Tongass timber harvests while their engines idled; women with big dyed hair carrying Can’t-Grows with shaved haircuts; homeless men asking for spare change and apologizing for needing it.”
Catuk’s father is an interesting character as an artist raising three children. Catuk’s sister and brother also go through their own identity crises and adapt to where they want to be in the world. Stories of the nearby villagers and Catuk and his family are interspersed with chapters following the lives of wolves.
Here Catuk seems to hit on the main reason he’s having trouble adjusting to life anywhere:
“‘Every time I get a grip on what matters, then I’m all confused again. A white-person career, with insurance? And a Pension? Something is missing in me – that feels like being born a wolf and choosing a dog’s life.’”
It would have been interesting to hear this author speak. I’d love to hear from anyone who made it to his reading or workshop.
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