Hey Read This… Does a Bear Do His Thing in Canadian Woods?

Posted on January 23, 2012


By: Marian Engel

I’m not going to beat around the bush with this one. This is a story about a woman who goes to an island to catalogue the contents of an old house where she meets a bear, becomes its friend and then becomes its lover. Honestly, I did not know this at the time that I bought it, I just thought it was a surreal book.

And that’s the weird thing, it isn’t that surreal. “Bear” is actually pretty interesting if you can get past the fact that 5% of the book is inter-species coitus. No, the bear never talks.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that if I were still in college, I could write a pretty good paper (or, rather, a dedicated student could) about how the bear represented Lou’s repressed desires to be liberated. The prose is unpretentios, there is thematic consistency and Lou is a very dynamic character.

Full Disclaimer: This book was written by a Canadian. In fact it falls into what is rapidly becoming my favorite species of literature called “Southern Ontario Gothic.” Robertson Davies counts himself in this group. Like American Southern Gothic they examine the evil present in human souls and then move on to magical realism, which, you have to admit, is a pretty solid combination. And all of them have a particularly Canadian approach to prose (utilitarian), characterization (some of the most real characters I’ve ever met) and themes (nature always plays a strong role).

But back to ‘Bear’. It is too short. I probably spent a combined hour and a half reading it. However I really got to know the main character Lou. One part of the story is this woman realizing that she likes this kind of solitude and hates her job. And, honestly, the best part of this is the prose. It gets the job done.

So maybe you’re going to be hearing about ‘Southern Ontario Gothic’ a lot from now on. Or not. I still have the final book of the Deptford Trilogy to read.

If you’re looking for a well written book that is about a woman who has a thing for a bear and also discovers meaningful things about herself in an old house in the wilds of Ontario, then ‘Bear’ might be for you. Even if you aren’t into that, reading some ‘Southern Ontario Gothic’ might be for you.


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