Once upon a time in rural Maine, a big black bear found a briefcase under a tree. Hoping for food, he dragged it into the woods, only to find that all it held was the manuscript of a novel. He couldn’t eat it, but he did read it, and decided it wasn’t bad. Borrowing some clothes from a local store, and the name Hal Jam from the labels of his favorite foods he headed to New York to seek his fortune in the literary world.
Then he took America by storm.
The Bear Went Over the Mountain is a riotous, magical romp with the buoyant Hal Jam as he leaves the quiet, nurturing world of nature for the glittering, moneyed world of man. With a pitch-perfect comic voice and an eye for social satire to rival Swift or Wolfe, bestselling author William Kotzwinkle limns Hal’s hilarious journey to New York, Los Angeles, and the great sprawling country in between, where a bear makes good despite his animal instincts, and where money-hungry executives see not a hairy beast with a purloined novel, but a rough-hewn, soulful, media-perfect nature guy who just might be the next Hemingway.
By turns sidesplittingly funny, stingingly ironic, and unexpectedly tender, The Bear Went Over the Mountain captures the zeitgeist of the 1990s dead-on, in a delicious bedtime story for grown-ups.
This is certainly the season for satirical looks at publishing. After Olivia Goldsmith's The Bestseller comes this delightful fable by Kotzwinkle (whose E.T. shares with Winston Groom's Forrest Gump the distinction of being its author's best-known title despite having been read by comparatively few people). Kotzwinkle has imagined a disconsolate Maine professor, Arthur Bramhall, who sets out to write a bestseller, only to have a bear steal it, thinking it's something to eat. This is no ordinary bear, however; he has aspirations to becoming a person (they eat so much better, and with much less trouble, than bears do). What better way to establish an identity than by becoming a celebrity novelist? Soon, the bear has found a pseudonym, Hal Jam, an agent and a publisher. With his distinctively masculine presence, and a monosyllabic way of talking that reminds many of Hemingway, he's on his way to stardom with a novel that everyone agrees has its roots deep in the natural world. Soon, he has a Hollywood agent, too, and the admiration of a Southern writer whose specialty is angels; both of them succumb to Hal's exuberant love-making (since a bear normally does it only once a year, a lot of libido is saved up). A pillar of the Christian right wants Hal's support for a run for the presidency, and Hal is only too willing, since he thinks "candidacy,'' like most words he doesn't know, means something to eat. Meanwhile, Bramhall, who is turning into a bear as fast as Hal is becoming human, launches a lawsuit to recover his lost book. How it all works out, and how Hal finds himself a sequel, is the meat of Kotzwinkle's hilarious and sometimes touching parable. The book business is unmercifully skewered (having read only a few lines of the novel, Hal's publicity person writes a summary on which all interviewers depend), but the spirit is mostly kindly, and in Hal Kotzwinkle has created a real star. Movie rights optioned by Jim Henson Pictures; author tour.
So much fun. Genius satire at its best.
This is a very original and enjoyable book to read