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Excerpt from Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ordinary Wolves

by Seth Kantner

Ordinary Wolves
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  • First Published:
    May 2004, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2005, 344 pages

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BookBrowse Note: The following Inupiaq words appear in this excerpt:

  • taikuu: thank you
  • mukluks: skin boots (slang) (Inupiaq word: kammak)
  • qusrimmaq: wild rhubarb
  • qaatchia: skin mattress, traditionally caribou hide
  • naluagmius: white people

Chapter One

IN THE BAD MOUSE YEAR-- two years after magazines claimed a white man hoofed on the moon--Enuk Wolfglove materialized one day in front of our house in the blowing snow and twilight of no-sun winter. His dog team vanished and reappeared in the storm. Abe stood suddenly at the window like a bear catching a scent. "Travelers!" He squeezed out his half-smoked cigarette, flicked it to the workbench, wiped ashy fingers on his sealskin overpants. We kids eyed the cigarette's arc--we could smoke it later, behind the drifts, pretend we were artists like him.

"Poke up the fire?" Abe grinned like an older brother, our best friend, no dad at all. "And hide the vanilla." His head and broad shoulders disappeared as he squirmed into his shedding caribou-calfskin parka. He banged the door to break the caribou-skin stripping loose and jumped into the storm.

Jerry pocketed the cigarette. He glanced up through his eyelashes. "I'll share," he mumbled. Iris and I paced the floorboards, excited about travelers. We were barefoot and red toed. It was getting dark, and stormy, or we'd all have dressed in parkas and hurried outside. Jerry lowered a log into the barrel stove. He got the second log stuck and had to wrench it back out, sparky and smoking. "Goddamn son of a biscuit!" he said, practicing with Abe absent. He was tall and ten-twice my age-and had the good black hair. Also, he remembered cities and cars and lawns, red apples on trees-if that stuff was true. Jerry left the draft open until flames licked the pipe red and smoke leaked out the cracks. He tracked down each spark, wet his finger, and drowned it. He wiped his finger on a log, peered at it, and wet it again. Abe was spanking-strict about fire. That, and no whining.

"It's Enuk Wolfglove!" Iris said. "Only one traveler!" Through the flapping Visqueen window we watched Abe and the man hunching against the wind, chaining the dogs in the willows near our team. Enuk lived west, downriver in Takunak village, but like wind he came off the land each time from a different direction. Iris squinted, myopically counting his dogs. Abe would be too generous, offering too much fish and caribou off our dogfood pile that needed to last until Breakup. Iris felt bad if our dogs got narrow and had to eat their shit. She was eight now, black hair too, and with blue eyes--but they were weak. She had gotten snowblind, the spring before last when she didn't wear her Army goggles on the sled back from the Dog Die Mountains. Someday, Abe meant to mailorder glasses.

I broke a chunk of thin ice off the inside of the window and sucked it. "How come they hitchin' 'em there?" The ice tasted like frozen breath and wet caribou hair.

Jerry peered over our shoulders. "You're talking Village English. Company isn't even off the ice." His voice was tight. People made him nervous. People made all of us nervous, except Iris. Our family lived out on the tundra. Abe had dug a pit, old Eskimo style, and built our igloo out of logs and poles, before I even grew a memory. Eskimos wouldn't live that way anymore, but for some reason we did. The single room was large, sixteen by sixteen, and buried to the eaves in the protective ground. In the back, over our beds, trees reached into the soil on the roof, and in the storms we heard their roots groaning, fighting for their lives out in the wind. Our walls and roof Abe insulated with blocks of pond sod. In the sod, mice and shrews rustled and fought and chewed and built their own homes, siphoning off warmth and mouthfuls of our food and winnowing it down to tiny black shits. Abe had escaped something, roads and rules possibly. Little things didn't bother him; Abe liked his meat dried, cooked, raw, or frozen. He didn't mind fly eggs on it--as long as the tiny maggots weren't moving.

Excerpted from Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner, pages 7-13 of the hardcover edition Copyright © 2004 by Seth Kantner. All rights reserved. Excerpted by permission of the publisher, Milkweed.  No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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