A Review of Marian Engel’s ‘Bear’ (1976)
If you have heard about Engels’ Canadian fringe flagship, ‘Bear’, there’s only one reason why, and we’ll get to the part in the spoiler zone below. For now, lemme beat around this bush, because frankly, there’s much bush to beat around. This is a lively honey-spurt of a novel, only about 120 pages, though not much happens; there’s a historian lady, who seems lonely, but enjoyably so. She gets the pleasure and opportunity to catalog the books and documents of an old island home in Canadian countryside. The home comes with a bear. It’s a “very good bear.” So she goes about doing that- the cataloging, I mean… There are a couple good finds. The seasons change. She swims. Feeds the bear. Dips into town now and again for groceries and things. Engel is a fucking wonderful writer, so this book bounds right along with a crisp Canadian dry wit and some immersive sensuous detailing. I’d recommend this book based on just this alone, regardless of what happens on page 78 and onward.
[S P O I L E R Z O N E]
HOLY SHIT SHE TOTALLY FUCKS THAT BEAR!!! Sorry, sorry. Objective review, okay. Ahem… She totally fucks that bear. What’s so, I dunno, horrifying and odd and fantastic about this, is the incredibly believable details that Engel provides during these increasingly consistent Yogi bonings (a great pen name opportunity there; Yogi Bonings.) It’s to the point where I don’t even think it symbolizing anything in particular, like it’s probably exactly how something like this would occur. I guess I could reach for something like the perversion of nature or familiarizing one’s self with one’s own primal animosity- humanity’s primal animosity, but none of that is at all overt. The best part about this book is handing it to someone who’s never heard of it before, like recommending a solid airplane read, like, “Hey, check this one out; Marian Engel is a fantastic writer, you’ll like this one.” It looks like a Willa Cather novel- light earth tones, thin font, pencil etching of a bear on the cover. Then knowing that page 78 is going to blindside them and you will know if they are truly your friend or not by the end of their reading. Hopefully you are, but if not, you don’t need THAT kind of person in your life anyway. Right?