In a distant future, a man and his daughter may be the last surviving humans on Earth.
Together, they spend their days hunting and fishing, a father passing on his wisdom to his daughter. The secrets of the seasons, the oceans, the stars. The lessons of a long ago civilization, ancient stories and myths of hunters honoring their prey and animals coming to the aid humanity. The father knows he won’t live forever and he wants to prepare his daughter for life without him, in harmony with the world around her.
The first half of Andrew Krivak’s short novel, The Bear reads like a gentler version of Cormack McCarthy’s The Road, mixed with the reality TV series Survivorman. And it’s heartbreaking. In the first chapter, the father’s answer to his daughter’s question of why she has no mother had me nearly sobbing, reading in the mall’s food court on my lunch break.
But halfway through the book, everything changes. Hopefully it won’t spoil too much to say that the father dies. He and his daughter have taken a journey to collect salt from the ocean, and now she must find her way home, heartsick and alone. The tone of the tale switches. It is no longer a compassionate story of survival. Now magic enters the world and the daughter’s realistic story turns fable. To aid the daughter back to her home, nature becomes personified, continuing the father’s lessons in a way that may be a distraught girl’s fantasy, a mystical reality, a pure allegory, or some combination of all three.
It has been nearly two months since I finished The Bear and I’m still ruminating on its melancholy yet somehow hopeful ode to the beauty the natural world has to offer.