by William Kotzwinkle, Doubleday 1996 hardcover
It has been said William Kotzwinkle doesn’t write the same novel twice, and it does seem to be true. He’s written, or co-written, over fifty books, in several genres for several age groups. A few of them are familiar titles, among them E.T. the Extra-terrestrial, Walter the Farting Dog, The Exile and The Game of Thirty, the latter having received a good deal of attention and praise from readers who like intrigue thrillers. Naturally, I have it on a shelf somewhere but haven’t read it yet.
But on to THIS book. You may have heard of this book, you may have read it. It’s difficult to put a label on this book. The Bear Went Over the Mountain isn’t a mystery, it’s not fantasy, though it has many fantasy elements, it’s, well it’s just what it is. I guess you’ll have to read it and figure it out for yourself.
I read it because it was recommended to me and it’s here because I, now having read it, am recommending it to you. It’s charming, it’s laugh-out-loud funny and it pokes a lot of barbs at things that I think should have barbs poked at: the book business, the agent business, professorial blowhards, talk shows and pretty much self-important people of all kinds. As you can see, it also has a wonderful cover by Peter de Seve, who has long been a favorite of mine.
Arthur Bramhall is a professor of American literature at the University of Maine. On sabbatical, he goes into the woods to write a book, of half a mind to write The Great American Novel and half to copy a best seller, change a few things around and make a lot of money. Arthur has his problems (let’s just say that when it comes to living in a cabin in the woods, he’s not the sharpest tack in the box) which culminate in his little cabin, book manuscript and all, burning to the ground. Arthur faces facts, the book was terrible anyway. He finds another place to write and begins anew. This time the book comes truly from himself and the influences of the natural world around him. Finishing the book, he is paranoid about another fire and so he hides his manuscript in a briefcase under a tree.
A large brownish black bear finds the briefcase and, hoping for food, carries it off into the woods. Upon tearing the case open, he discovers not food but instead the manuscript. He can’t eat it so he decides to read it, and thinks it’s pretty good. So he “borrows” some clothes from a local store, takes the name Hal Jam from his favorite foods and heads for New York to seek his fortune in the literary world. He takes America by storm.
It isn’t often that I laugh out loud while reading a book, but it happened several times with this one. The Bear Went Over the Mountain is a special book. Highly recommended.