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BookBrowse Reviews The Bear by Andrew Krivak

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The Bear

by Andrew Krivak

The Bear by Andrew Krivak X
The Bear by Andrew Krivak
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  • Paperback:
    Feb 2020, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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In this moving post-apocalyptic fable, a girl is guided on an elegiac mission by a talking bear.

The Bear feels like a novel I've been awaiting for years. I received the book and its message with wonderment and gratitude, feeling as though it came into my life for a reason. Coming up on a year since the death of my father and the passing of my two beloved dogs, this story resonated deeply with me. The Bear isn't just about the last two people on Earth, an unnamed father and daughter who live in a time after some sort of apocalyptic event has felled humanity. It's about grief—how the father has dealt with the loss of his wife, who died not long after giving birth to the girl, and how the girl will learn to live through this pain as well. I felt amazed watching her grow up so fast with just the turning of a few pages, seven years old on one page, and then 11 and 12 years old less than 30 pages later. I thought of how we survive years of hardship, like the prolonged illness of a parent, for example, and it always seems so short when we describe our experiences to others.

It's no spoiler to say that the father dies a little over halfway through The Bear, since this is implied in the book jacket's plot summary. Afterwards, the girl must contend with being truly alone until a talking bear enters her singular world and begins to guide her back to "the mountain that stands alone" so that she can properly bury the remains of her father next to her mother. The bear tells her, among other things, of the power of trees in the forest, that they do speak, but it would take her "many moons" to hear one conversation of theirs. He also says that long ago, animals could speak as humans have, but the humans stopped listening.

While the girl works through her grief and tries to adjust to being the last of her kind, the bear tells her, referring to her father, "By your own account, you can fashion again whatever you need to survive. He saw to that long before he died." The will and means to survive are partly bestowed upon us by genetics—evolutionary traits that help us adapt—but also by what we've been taught by those who are no longer here, what we carry with us long after they're gone.

Yet that's not all of the multitudes that The Bear contains. This is a novel that can change perceptions of the Earth and our place in it. Andrew Krivak's rich, clearly-experienced descriptions of nature make you vividly feel pieces of ice in a river, for example, or the space of a cave. It becomes so obvious that we do not dominate the natural world. We have never dominated it. We are merely guest stars on this planet who have been granted an incredibly generous arc. The novel may inspire a recoupling with nature, or a new connection if you haven't had much of one before.

But to properly experience the quietly poetic emotional power of this one, you must leave behind the tumult and chaos of the present day. Turn off your cellphone. Ignore your emails. Start The Bear slowly. Let its language of this mostly-post-human world wash over you, through you, and into your heart. Ignore life as you know it. Steep yourself in only this. You may find a new understanding of yourself and your place in this world and learn what nature can do for you if you let it in. Krivak suggests that we treat ourselves and our planet more gently, and that's a profound, critical message.

Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky

This review first ran in the March 18, 2020 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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