Saturday, March 17, 2007
CLASSIC BOOK REVIEW
By Brent Erickson
The Bear Went Over the Mountain
By William Kotzwinkle
Owl Books Copyright 1996
Poor Arthur Bramhall. After studding all the bestsellers, the Literature professor was on sabbatical from the University of Maine, working on a novel of his own, when his manuscript was destroyed in a cabin fire.
This was especially troubling to Arthur because, "He was ill-suited to teaching as he was subject to depression and preferred being alone, knowing that he was poor company when he was depressed which was most of the time. He'd purchased the old farm in hopes of having sex with women who'd move to the country and might themselves be depressed...His plan was that after having sex with them, he'd write a best selling novel about it. He'd written the novel, but it'd been from his imagination, not his experience for he found that the women who moved to the country wore shapeless overalls, frequently smelled of kerosene...and refused to shave their legs; he thought of them as fur bearing women...Consequently the only excitement he'd had was his house burning down."
Although his colleagues laughed at his persistence, Arthur Bramhall rewrote his book. "He gave up trying to write a copy of a bestseller and wrote in a fever of inspiration straight from the heart-about love and longing and loss and about the forces of nature in into whose power he'd been initiated...There was was still lots of sex but it had a connection to the ancient moods of the forests, to crow songs and fox cries and the crackling of fire in the hearth."
Having finished his new book Arthur thought his adventure in the woods was almost over, but it was just beginning. Fearing another house fire, he cautiously stored the book in a briefcase and hid it in the forest beneath a pine tree, when he went into town to celebrate. Everything would have been just fine for Arthur if there had not been a bear watching him hide his manuscript. "Now, as Bramhall got into his car and drove off to buy champagne, the bear padded across the field and slipped under the branches of the pine tree." The bear, disappointed that the briefcase contained no food was ready to discard it when a line caught his eye and he began to read. "'Why' he said to himself 'this isn't bad at all.' There was lots of sex and a good bit of fishing, "This book has everything," he concluded...He slipped the manuscript back into the briefcase, clamped the handle in his teeth and headed toward town."
Arthur was devastated by the loss of his book for the second time. Thankfully he was comforted by the locals who rallied to support him. Their quirky but good natured ways began to have a profound effect on the professor who was developing a keen sense of belonging in the forest, even forging a romantic relationship with a "fur bearing woman".
Meanwhile the bear, now known as Hal Jam, was doing some adjusting of his own. After replacing the stolen books by-line with his own name, and stealing a suit from a local store, the bear went to work pitching “his” book in the city, and like Arthur he was embraced by a strange but good-natured bunch of characters. The people in the literary crowd in which Hal soon found himself, were too wrapped up in highbrow ideas to notice they were talking to a bear. His publisher Elliot Gradson for instance was a little weary of “Hal” but not because he was a bear.
“Gradson was not warming to his new author for Jam was guarded. ‘God I hope he’s not homophobic.’ thought Gradson, whose wall carried a poster of Cary Grant in Bringing up Baby at the moment when he’d put on a women’s nightgown and cried, 'I just went Gay all of a sudden.' The bear was not homophobic, as bears have a tolerant sexual attitude. Occasionally young male bears who fail to find a female will hump each other and no one make a fuss about it.” After taking some time to warm up to his eccentric ways, Hal’s people eventually go all out in promoting their hot young writer. “We’ll make the Hemmingway comparison, I hope you don’t mind. Sportsman, adventurer, larger than life, the man of action who can also tell a story.”
William Kotzwinkle, a writer who, in his over 37-year literary career has demonstrated his versatility and talent countless times once again delivers both humor and insight in this classic novel. Kotzwinkle’s The Bear Went Over the Mountain has received critical acclaim all over the world, has been called “the funniest fable of our time.” by the Los Angeles Times and after devouring this fantastical tale it’s easy to see why. Reader’s familiar with Kotwinkles serious novels, (Swimmier in the Secret Sea, The Game of 30,) his screenplays (E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, Superman 3) or his children’s books (Walter the Farting Dog, Banned from the Beach) might be surprised by this satirical fable. However Fans of Kotszwinkle’s beatnik classic The Fan Man or anyone with an interest in the often-unbelievable literary world will surely find The Bear Went Over the Mountain a delight.