CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006
With the increase in reported clashes between bears and people in recent years, numerous books offer true accounts of such incidents. Storyteller Jim Nelson has created a collection of short fiction loosely connected by bear and other wildlife encounters. His rationale, described in the introduction and echoed in the epilogue, deals with the error of taking nature for granted, and he points to respecting the bear as a symbol of the power and grandeur in what remains of our wild lands.
Eleven stories and a couple of anecdotes in the introduction and epilogue comprise the collection. Most of the stories focus on close encounters that result from the carelessness, lack of common sense, or disrespect of humans who venture into bear habitat. In half of the stories, the bear emerges victorious: one grizzly repeatedly raids camp supplies outsmarting a seasoned guide; a couple of timber cruisers find themselves stranded between a determined mother and her cub; a ghostly polar bear inspires a skeptical photographer to pay closer attention to the spirit world. On the downside for bears, one tale focuses on the unfortunate outcome for a young bear that has been tempted too close to the setting of a political summit at an Alberta resort. A couple of the stories do not feature bears: a bullying rooster is the nemesis of a would-be cowhand in one, and wild pigs foster rebellion against arrogant authority in another.
The best structured story of the collection portrays a young woman stationed at a forestry fire tower who is content to ponder the daily presence of a bear watching her cabin. Roberta doesn't mention the animal to male coworkers lest they raise the issue of gender-based courage. Although she doesn't doubt her own resourcefulness, her bravery is tested when the bear attempts to enter the cabin one night, becoming stuck halfway through the small window. Roberta is forced to shoot it. Any question of courage is settled, although at the expense of an old, almost toothless and apparently starving bear.
Unfortunately, the lead story in the collection exhibits the weakest structure and no thematic satisfaction. Initial character development is dropped abruptly as the scene shifts to the actual main characters eight pages into the story. The protagonist professes to have the bears' best interests in mind but fails to elicit empathy as he 'rescues' an orphaned cub for a life as a one-ring circus performer.
While most action scenes are tightly written, well paced and tense, the collection is uneven in writing quality. It may be of interest to young adults or adults looking for light reading.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.