Reviews > Published on February 10th, 2014

Bookshots: 'The Bear' by Claire Cameron

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Bear

Who wrote it?

I don't want anyone to have to suffer the pain I experienced reading 'The Bear', but at the same time I want everyone on the planet to read this book and feel these horribly complex and yet intensely primal emotions.

Claire Cameron, a former wilderness instructor in Ontario's Algonquin Park.

Plot in a box:

Anna is five years old and soon she will be six and Anna and her brother Stick and Momma and Daddy go camping and a big black dog comes and there's a piece of meat it has on Daddy's shoe and Momma is lying in the plants the blood is on her neck and in her shirt and it is ripped and she looks like not Momma but a doll.

Invent a new title for this book:

33 Chapters and an Epilogue on Why You Should Never Take Your Kids Camping

Read this if you like:

I don't know, crying? Horror stories about camping trips gone terribly wrong? Into the Wild?

Meet the books leads:

Anna and her brother she calls him Stick he is two years old and almost three and he bugs her lots of times because she is five years old and soon she will be six and Gwen teddy bear she is brown.

Said leads would be portrayed in a movie by:

Dakota Fanning, but like I Am Sam Dakota Fanning, not Twilight Dakota Fanning, or maybe Drew Barrymore circa E.T. (Anna); Nicky and/or Alex from Full House (Stick); Creasy Bear from Man on Fire already has a working relationship with Dakota, while the teddy from Firestarter could be called in to work with Drew (Gwen).

Setting: Would you want to live here?

Me? Absolutely not. It a) takes place in Canada and b) involves camping. This book has put me off camping (and possibly Canada) for life.

What was your favorite sentence?

I sing a song and walk and da da da down by the bay, where the watermelons grow and I wish I had a big piece of watermelon and I look and there is a lake and no watermelon.

The Verdict:

Good gracious, this book is absolutely heartbreaking. At first I couldn't read more than a chapter at a time, but I needed to know what happened, so I read most of the book in these short bursts of emotion that were tremendously powerful for such a small book. It's only about 220 pages, but I'm pretty sure if anyone read the entire thing straight through, that person would just...die. His or her heart would simply burst. It's too much. This book floored me. I don't want anyone to have to suffer the pain I experienced reading The Bear, but at the same time I want everyone on the planet to read this book and feel these horribly complex and yet intensely primal emotions.

I look around and it's mess mess mess.

For the great majority of the book, a five-year-old girl is wandering around in the wilderness trying to protect her two-year-old brother. That's hard enough to deal with, but she's also the narrator, which means that you're in her head and feeling exactly what she's feeling. You're right there with her as she's trying to figure out why her parents haven't come by to make her lunch or take her home or tuck her into bed or any of the things that parents are supposed to do for their children.

The sun gives too much shine and there are trees everywhere with their dark in between and I don't see anything I know.

Obviously it deals with a very specific incident, a bear attack, but really this is one of the most universal stories I've ever come across. The gravity of this girl's loss, the immensity of her frustration and confusion, and the sheer power of her resolve and determination not to let her parents down through taking care of her brother is beyond anything I ever expected when I picked this book up and started reading.

It is raining hard and there is water all over me and I am shaking and so so cold and I think I will probably get dead.

It's difficult for me to even write this, because it means I have to remember the book, and think about how difficult it is emotionally, and how bluntly the concepts of trauma and loss and abandonment are confronted. It doesn't matter, though, because it's not like I've been able to think about anything else since I put it down. I even started looking into the history of fatal bear attacks in North America, which was probably a terrible idea if I ever plan to go into any forested area ever again.

I put my head back down and I won't ever sleep a long time maybe forever.

Who am I kidding? I am never going into any forested area ever again. Watch out for bears, folks, and read this book.

About the author

Brian McGackin is the author of BROETRY (Quirk Books, 2011). He has a BA from Emerson College in Something Completely Unrelated To His Life Right Now, and a Masters in Poetry from USC. He enjoys Guinness, comic books, and Bruce Willis movies.

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