The Bear Went
Over the Mountain

William Kotzwinkle
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Buy *The Bear Went Over the Mountain* online The Bear Went
Over the Mountain

William Kotzwinkle
Owl Books (Henry Holt)
306 pages
Copyright 1996
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

William Kotzwinkle's fiction has been translated into a dozen languages, and his writing is respected worldwide. After reading The Bear Went Over the Mountain, it's easy to understand why. A comic masterpiece satirizing fame, fortune, and the human condition, Kotzwinkle's latest is an uproarious fable for our times, a tale of magical realism that leaves us shaking our heads and shedding copious tears of laughter as a humble bear learns to imitate and embrace human pretensions and folly.

Literature professor Arthur Bramhall is on sabbatical from the University of Maine, working on a novel that is a deliberate copy of a bestseller in an old farmhouse. When the farmhouse burns down, Arthur's manuscript is lost. Arthur builds a cabin from the insurance proceeds and rewrites his book, but this time the story is imbued with humble honesty, a quiet radiance resulting from Arthur's brush with the forces of nature. Though his snobbish colleagues remain dubious, Arthur believes that his second version of Destiny and Desire is a triumph. He leaves the finished manuscript under some pine boughs a goodly distance from his new cabin before going off to celebrate with one of the local "fur-bearing" women.

While Arthur drinks coffee with his new-agey female pal, a curious and eternally hungry bear investigates the briefcase under the tree, hoping to maybe find a delicious pie. The bear discovers the manuscript, and decides that between the sex and the fishing this book has everything. He clamps the briefcase handle between his teeth and heads to town. The bear breaks into a clothing store, putting together an ensemble that might not provide as much camoflauge among humans as he hopes. Taking his name from condiment containers on his table at the Main Street diner, the bear dubs himself "Hal Jam" and laboriously rewrites the title page to make himself the author.

Thus begins the bear's rise and Arthur Bramhall's decline. Arthur, crushed by the loss of his book, takes to traveling the area around his cabin with Vinal Pinette. The old lumberjack tries to jumpstart Arthur's creative juices with the fantastically mundane experiences of the locals. Rather than rejuvenating the artist in Arthur, Pinette's attempts help drive the writer farther toward a weird communion with nature and its creatures.

While Arthur mourns his loss, the bear gets an agent for the manuscript and is immediately hailed as the new Hemingway. With the instincts of the forest and a less than loquacious command of the human tongue, the bear is quickly labeled the strong, silent, eccentric type. Pursued by publishers and Hollywood agents, the bear finds himself in innumerable awkward situations, including an episode of extreme performance anxiety brought on by trying to rut out of season. Obsessed with acceptance in human society, the bear becomes less and less a natural creature and more a fabricated, self-invented one. With his innate flair for the unusual, the bear finds himself in great demand on the publicity circuit and in political circles. His book is published to great acclaim, and the bear is the critic's darling.

A much-reduced Arthur Bramhall lumbers from the cave he now calls home to break into a restaurant for some food. In the refrigerator he finds some fish wrapped in newspaper, and experiences an epiphany of recall. Destiny and Desire rides across the top of the bestseller list. Driven to action by his loss (and the bear's gain), Arthur discovers that he has become the bear, and struggles to recover his humanity so he might win back what is rightfully his from the bear in the most human of traditions: the lawsuit.

The Bear Went Over the Mountain rollicks from beginning to end with farcical wit. The transformation of man to bear and bear to man provides endless possibilities for satirical insight and statement. Kotzwinkle's style is deceptively simple, easy to read yet full of depth and dry humor. As funny and intelligent as Richard Russo's Straight Man, The Bear Went Over the Mountain is one of the best takes on the literary world in the last few years.

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