Posted by: Sally Ingraham | March 12, 2009

The Bear Went Over the Mountain

Last week a fellow I respect quite a lot recommended a book, praising it highly for being one of the few that had made him laugh out loud. The plot sounded intriguing and funny, and he mentioned that the author lived in Maine. I went directly from that conversation to the library, found the book, and checked it out. I started it that night, full of excitement (and eager to avoid reading Proust…)

Bear MountainThe Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle was not, in my opinion, the “riotous, magical romp” nor the “sidesplittingly funny, stingingly ironic, and unexpectedly tender” book that the inside flap proclaimed.

To sum up: a black bear roaming the Maine woods finds a briefcase beneath a tree, and hoping for food drags it off with him. Inside he finds the manuscript of a book, which he cannot eat, but reads instead, and deems it his ticket to wealth and fame. Borrowing clothes from a local store and changing the name of the author to Hal Jam – his new identity – he heads to New York City and slap, bang, he has a publisher, a publicist, an agent, a movie contract, several women who are wild about him, and a fan base that sees not a bear in a baseball hat and clip on tie, but a nature loving, soulful writer who reminds one strongly of Hemingway.

I get it, I get it – social satire, a blistering yet comic look at the moneyed world of man and the whirl of the publishing industry, where power hungry people twist every circumstance to their own advantage, seeing what they want to see, hearing what they want to hear, lost in their own self-centered lives.

I guess what I couldn’t get past was the literal. Hal Jam IS A BEAR. He may stand upright, grunt short sentences, and wipe his nose with a tissue, but he is a BEAR. How does everyone in the story not SEE that?!

I was, and still am surprised by my own obstinate refusal to accept the alternative reality of this “bedtime story for grown ups”. It wasn’t funny to me, it was foolish. The writing was the type that always annoys me – too clever, too purposely ironic. I dislike blatant caricatures, and don’t appreciate a version of reality where everyone is that oblivious.

Part of me senses that I am missing something, and I feel a little insecure about my capacity to appreciate satire. The rest of me doesn’t really care, beyond the purely self-concerned thought of what the fellow who recommended the book to me will think when I declare that I thought it was rubbish…!

We can’t all agree about everything though, and the simple fact is that The Bear Went Over the Mountain didn’t make me laugh out loud once. Oh well.


  1. The problem is a lot of people mistake sarcasm for satire. Evidently you don’t. That is, imho, a good thing!

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