The Bear Went Over the Mountain

by William Kotzwinkle, Doubleday 1996 hardcover

click to enlarge

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.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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15 Responses to The Bear Went Over the Mountain

  1. Sounds good. I may have to check this one out. I may have to quit reading blogs. My TBR pile’s not getting any smaller.(sigh)

  2. Carl V. says:

    I was sold the minute I saw the Peter de Seve cover. He is consistently one of my favorite artists whose work is featured each year in Spectrum. Great stuff. I love a laugh-out-loud funny book and the premise of this one seems like it has a lot of comic potential. I’m glad you enjoyed it and appreciate the recommendation.

  3. I’ve read about a dozen Kotzwinkle books and you’re right, Rick, he never writes the same book twice. Very quirky works, but always surprising. Glad you’re feeling better!

  4. Richard says:

    Randy – this one will be available at your library, I think.

  5. Richard says:

    Carl – I meant to mention the cover and artist, and it slipped away. I’ve corrected that. Thanks a lot for the comment and reminder.

  6. Todd Mason says:

    Indeed…if any reading might help a migraine, Kotzwinkle might. I haven’t read any of his ET books as yet, but of the fifteen or so I have read, the only one I was even mildly disappointed by would be JACK IN THE BOX, which was retitled in deference to the film version for a tie-in paperback BOOK OF LOVE (a really bad title for a book featuring the serial rape of children by other, older children, I’d suggest). I’ll disagree with you to the extent that this is fantasy, albeit a satirical fantasy in Aesopean mode, with a bear who can cope with urban American society rather more seamlessly than our New Jersey black bears seem able to do. Not up to the standards of such milestones as THE EXILE (which I did as one of my first FFBs) or THE HOT JAZZ TRIO, but defintely worth the read.

  7. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Strangely, JACK IN THE BOX is on my book list but I don’t remember one thing about it. ET and THE BOOK OF THIRTY are a little more memorable than that!

  8. Richard says:

    Todd – A “definitely worth the read” from you is a recommendation those reading here should pay attention to. We could no doubt debate about the fantasy aspect of the book, but I’ll bow to your emendation of my statement on that.

    I’ve not read the ET books, nor Jack in the Box. I was happy to reread this one, and in hardcover, even in low light with the head hurting it still went down with many chuckles (no clown jokes!).

  9. Richard says:

    As I said above, I have The Game of Thirty but cannot locate it. I’m not sure what genre I’ve shelved it in…

  10. Drongo says:

    One wonders how Joe Servello would have handled this cover. I always think of him when I think of Kotzwinkle.

  11. Richard says:

    For this particular book, I think de Seve was the perfect choice, just as Servello was for Trouble in Bugland.

  12. I loved this book. I got it at NCIBA several years ago, and at Maggie Mason’s insistence, I read it. What a fun read!

  13. Richard says:

    Maggie was the one who recommended it to me, too, Janet.

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