The Bear by Andrew Krivak
Post-Apocalyptic | Nature
Published by Bellevue Literary Press
Released February 11th, 2020
Goodreads | Amazon
Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher. This in no way affects my opinions.
“Her father told her once that all animals were creatures of habit and so, too, were they. The difference was she could choose to change her habits. Animals changed when they were afraid. Change before fear has had a chance to overcome you, he said, or after you have overcome it and like a storm it has moved on.”
When I first heard about Andrew Krivak’s The Bear months before it was published, I easily predicted that it would end up being a five-star read for me. After all, it’s post-apocalyptic, which is my favorite genre; it’s told almost like a fable, which intrigued me; and it’s about the last two human inhabitants of a planet that is being reclaimed by nature. Everything about this book stood out to me as something I would love.
As you can tell from the two-star rating that I gave this book, however, it didn’t end up being a new favorite. Surely part of that was that it didn’t live up to the high expectations that I had for it, but mostly it was because there was so much wasted potential along with too many stylistic choices being ripped straight from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.
I can’t explain the plot any better than the publisher, so here’s the blurb for The Bear:
In an Eden-like future, a girl and her father live close to the land in the shadow of a lone mountain. They own a few remnants of civilization: some books, a pane of glass, a set of flint and steel, a comb. The father teaches his daughter how to fish and hunt and the secrets of the seasons and the stars. He is preparing her for an adulthood in harmony with nature, for they are the last of humankind. But when the girl finds herself alone in an unknown landscape, it is a bear that will lead her back home through a vast wilderness that offers the greatest lessons of all, if she can learn to listen. A cautionary tale of human fragility, of love and loss, The Bear is a stunning tribute to the beauty of nature’s dominion.
Before I start discussing the aspects of this novel that didn’t work for me, I want to talk about the positives. I love what the author, Andrew Krivak, attempted to do with this book. There are strong themes woven throughout the story that touch on important topics.
First, the main character, whose name we never learn (more on that later), is left entirely alone in the world after the death of her father. Loss is always difficult, but for this girl, what is even the point of continuing on? She’s the last human left alive, her very existence is made up of struggling to survive, and there’s no one who will benefit from any legacy she’ll leave behind. A quote in the book that stood out to me made me think about my experiences living with severe depression, especially at those (thankfully rare) points where I didn’t see the point of going on.
“You’re hungry, I know, said the dreambear, but you need to be hungry for more than food. More than sleep. We all go to sleep and will be asleep for a long time. Be hungry for what you have yet to do while you’re awake.”
(Note: This quote was taken from the ARC of The Bear, so may be changed in the final version.) Whenever I’m feeling really depressed, one of the things that will usually help to pull me out of it is thinking about all of the things that I haven’t done yet. Some of them are silly (dying my hair purple) and some are huge (spending a week in the mountains of Norway), but they are all things that push me to move forward. It’s so easy for people prone to depression to get caught up in doing the bare minimum to survive: go to work, eat, sleep, repeat. But life is about so much more than those essentials. I have no idea if this was the author’s intention, but it was definitely something that stood out to me while reading it.
Another theme that Krivak’s book touches on is the survival of the world when humanity ends. No matter what humans do to destroy the world around us, the world will move on. It’s so much more than that, however. In this story, the girl loses her father, and her world doesn’t end. She has to keep living. We tend to think of death as the end of the world, whether it’s our own death or the death of our loved ones, and it’s sad when it happens. The world will still go on, though, and there’s a certain beauty in that. We can use this lesson when experiencing grief, and to help move through the sadness that accompanies loss.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, The Bear had so much potential. It was the execution of these themes and the storytelling itself that resulted in my two-star rating.
First, this novel blatantly takes its style and narrative form directly from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (which happens to be my second favorite book of all time). The Road is a masterpiece of storytelling, and McCarthy’s unique style is a huge part of that. In The Road, we never learn the names of the characters, when or where they are, or what happened to cause the end of the world. There are no quotations, the layout is simplistic. All of this combines to pull the reader deeper into the loneliness and despair of what the characters are experiencing. McCarthy took a chance on writing his novel like this, and it worked perfectly.
All of these things are true of The Bear, but it fails to pull the reader in the same way. We never know the characters’ names, nor do we know why they’re the only surviving humans. There are no quotations, and we never learn exactly where the story takes place. Where in The Road it pulled me deeper into the story, in The Bear it only made me feel more disconnected from the characters. These stylistic choices do not work for every story and not every author can pull it off, and I strongly feel that Krivak’s book may have benefitted from a completely different format.
Another aspect of this book is that the main character, the girl, makes terrible decisions. After her father dies, she burns all of his maps and the hand-made bow that they made together. Grief sucks, I get it, but it didn’t fit in with the characters being survivors. In reality, I doubt anyone in her position would have thrown away tools essential to getting back home.
While Andrew Krivak’s The Bear had some solid ideas behind it, my opinion of it is that it failed to utilize the profound themes it touches upon to impact the reader. The stylistic choices Krivak made borrowed too heavily from a masterpiece of the post-apocalyptic genre, and it was too obvious to ignore. I can’t recommend this book on those points.