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
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
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.