Wednesday, February 11, 2015
A bear of very little brain
In Kotzwinkle's literary fable, a Maine bear who has become a people watcher and wishes he could become a person himself, gets his chance when he finds a briefcase containing a manuscript for a novel, Destiny and Desire, by Arthur Bramhall. The bear has taught himself to read from the labels on human food, and he thinks it's a pretty good book. The publishing world thinks so, too, and soon Hal Jam (the bear names himself after one of his favorite foods) finds himself the acclaimed author of a best seller.
The story owes a debt to Being There, Jerzy Kosinski's terrific 1970 novel that was made into an equally terrific film. In that book, Chance is the simple-minded gardener who dresses in his employer's hand-me-down clothes. When his benefactor dies, Chance is turned out of the estate, but he looks so fine in his expensive suits he is taken for a wealthy businessman, and his simple statements about gardening and television shows are taken as words of great wisdom. We get a lot of that in The Bear Went Over the Mountain. Hal Jam talks mostly about food and his life in the Maine woods, but his listeners invariably interpret his words as something else entirely.
Kotzwinkle loses his readers' attention a bit whenever his story strays from Hal Jam back to Arthur Bramhall. Even so, it proves interesting when Bramhall turns gradually into a bear while the bear morphs into a human being.