The Bear Went Over the Mountain
“It’s winter, I’m a dog, all I’ve got to keep me going is licking my balls and the love of cookies.”
“He was hungry, hungrier than he’d ever been. He was hungry for food and for life.”
These two quotes above, from the book on review here The Bear Went Over the Mountain, are excellent examples of the two main reasons I truly loved this book. The first is the absolutely wonderful sprinkling of oddball humor throughout. The second is the very real human longings and ambitions that this novel touches upon along the entire course of its unlikely yet oddly compelling plot.
As I noted in my own Shelfari Review of this piece:
This was by far one of the most bizarre, most interesting, most compelling “School English Class”-esque books I’ve ever actually wanted to keep reading until the end. Some very common life themes combined with an altogether implausible, Animal Farm style plot-line and some great humor made this an intensely pleasurable and thoughtful read.
The plot of this novel by William Kotzwinkle boils down thusly:
- Man retreats to mountains to find himself and the novel within
- Man’s work is stolen by bear
- Bear steals man’s identity and ensuing fame
- Man becomes as a bear; bear becomes as a man
Truly though, so much more happens. Not only was I surprised by the almost George Orwellian “Animal Farm” nature of some of the plot (animals becoming as humans, and humans becoming as animals) but by the way that this read as a far more pleasurable version of many of the mandatory “Classics” we were forced to read for English classes in my school days. Unlike other classics that I struggled through then, this tale kept me engaged from tip to tale (hah! Tail, I mean). The bawdy humor interspersed with the real-life themes of struggling to fit in, fighting to balance our more animal natures against the rules of society, love and lust and the call of nature, really made this a page turner.
As a warning for those readers of a more cautious nature, the book does delve into the bestiality realm a bit when it treats the theme of sex for the bear posing as a man. Yet the treatment of the topic was not so vulgar as to be off-putting.
Another reason I found this book endearing was it’s treatment of beauty: as something truly in the mind of the beholder. As the man becomes more like a bear and the bear more like a man; each realizes that their taste in the female population is altered significantly towards ideals they never before found appealing.
It was also interesting to read about the bear’s manner of breaking down the stereotypes a bit of anyone large and “lumbering” being fully unfit or lazy when he enters a gym and wows everyone by lifting hundreds of pounds of weights as par for the course.
Also refreshing is this section regarding women and food, set during the bear’s hosted party after the publishing of “his” book, catered with incredible amounts of sweet foodstuffs:
“All these pastries are suicidal,” said a young woman from Esquire. “I just had two thousand calories in one bite.” They were standing with the gold-tinted plaster Venus between them, unashamedly overweight, beads of illuminated oil dripping around her voluptuous hips.
“I think he’s trying to tell us to drop our ideal of the starved body.”
“For that alone, he should get the National Book Award.” The young woman from Esquire took a piece of chocolate cake.
…(A bit further down the page)…
The bear came by, please to see females eating chocolate cake. Human females, in his observation, didn’t take advantage of the wonderful range of sweets available to them.
In all I must say that for its themes, its diverse and interesting characters, its balance of the vulgar with the inspired, the vividly yet not overly laboriously described thoughts and allegory; this would have made a far better read during those painful days of enforced literature absorption in school than any number of “Catcher in the Rye” or “Scarlett Letter” novels. Though, since I am speaking from the rose-colored glasses of aged wisdom reflecting upon youth, it is entirely likely I would have found this book just as tedious as any other I was forced to read for learning instead of pleasure. A return to the line about the dog loving cookies and licking balls does hint that my first thought is more correct though.
This book calls itself “a delicious bedtime story for grown-ups.” I am inclined to heartily agree.