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Norman Tuttle on the Last Frontier: A Novel in Stories    by Tom Bodett order for
Norman Tuttle on the Last Frontier
by Tom Bodett
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

This coming of age story tells of the trials and tribulations of Norman Tuttle (from thirteen to sixteen) in 'Alaska, the Last Frontier'. Norman is 'awkward', i.e. klutzy. As he physically grows six inches over a short-time span, Norm is 'all legs and arms'.

Norm's family includes Mom and Dad, two younger brothers and a sister. Norman spends time with his best friend Stanley riding bikes, at Saturday movies, and at the boat harbor. Going from a 'normal childhood' into another phase of life is unpredictable, 'like driving to Alaska from someplace else. You get to Canada first, which looks about like where you just were ... Alaska begins to look like something else ... fewer buildings, more mountains and blue glaciers ... goofy-looking moose and a sign -- "Welcome to Alaska, the Last Frontier".'

On a fishing trip with Dad and Uncle Stu, Norman falls into the water. He yells their names, unheard, as the boat continues forward. Dad is so shook up that Norm has a revelation - Dad really cares and he can talk to him about anything even girls, one specifically - Laura Magruder. In gym volleyball, when Norman lobs one over the net hard, the ball accidentally hits Leonard Kopinski. Big guy Kopinski proclaims, 'You're dead, Tuttle!' To the surprise of all, himself included, Tuttle throws a punch hitting Kopinski square on the already damaged nose! Hmm. Another discovery for Norm in conquest of a bully.

During a summer separation from Laura, while Norman works on Dad's fishing boat, the couple exchanges mail. Laura signs-off with 'OXOXOX', which Norm reads as 'OXES'; he signs off with 'COW COW HORSE' (makes sense to me :-)). On his fourteenth birthday, Norman acquires a family treasure - a 30/30 lever action Winchester, which belonged to his grandfather. Norm's first hunting trip is a story in itself, as is Norm's first home party (the parents are away but return unexpectedly), his summer on a farm in Oregon, and the return trip to Alaska after being assaulted and robbed during a stopover in Seattle. A man named Oliver comes to Norman's aid. Hmm! Coincidence?

Tom Bodett intersperses descriptions of Alaska through the story, as 'Like a trail through a fairy tale, the deep pink fireweed was all in bloom along the road. Sparkling glaciers wound around the handsome mountain peaks across the bay, and the scent of mowed lawns was on the breeze.' Just as there are bumps and potholes on a roadway, so goes growing-up. and the author has written an extraordinary story of Norman Tuttle's bumpy years. I recommend Norman Tuttle on the Last Frontier as an enjoyable, entertaining read.

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