35 The Bear Went Over the Mountain, William Kotzwinkle

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The Bear Went Over the Mountain, William Kotzwinkle, Henry Holt, 1997 (c1996), ISBN 0-8050-5438-3, $13.00, 306pp.

This is a wickedly funny satire of publishing and life, wherein a nice bear stumbles upon a manuscript in the woods and decides to become an author. As authors are notoriously eccentric, his strangeness is discounted by all (he is the next Ernest Hemingway, they say, so raw and back to nature). At the same time, the fellow who actually wrote the book is finding that his anger and depression is leading him into the woods where he is becoming more gruff than ever.

There are sections here where I was literally snorting with laughter, usually in response to the literal-mindedness of the bear’s reaction to humans–their mating rituals, the hoarding of food, those things important in life. Like the best fable, William Kotzwinkle shows us through his bear character that all of these things we accept so easily are so much more, and also shows us through the human author that the city life is only part of the story.

The methodology of the tale is ultra-fantastic, even “magic realism” if you will. Kotzwinkle constantly reminds us that the bear is a bear, even as he becomes more human-like (and vice versa for the author turned woodsman). It resembles Carol Emshwiller’s Carmen Dog in this manner–the animals may speak, but there’s still a difference between them and humans. The satire resembles Terry Bisson’s “Bears Discover Fire” (you could say this is “Bears Discover Publishing”) in that it juxtaposes the raw nature of the beast with the civilized society. As much as I admire Bisson’s story, I think Kotzwinkle out-does him, basically just by being able to extend the conceit for an entire novel. This is highly recommended to fans of realist fantasy and humorous works in general.

[Finished June 1999]

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