William Kotzwinkle The Bear Went Over the Mountain
Henry Holt, 1996

This one came my way via a recommendation from Corey Redekop when I was chattering about bookish fiction. At first I was really excited about it, but, when I got my copy and saw the blurb on the back from the New York Times (“Ha! makes you laugh out loud and root for his success.”), I got nervous: when someone recommends a funny book, it often doesn’t turn out well, because humour is such an individual thing.

In this case, however, the recommendation was a perfect fit. My reluctance resulted in the book sitting untouched for weeks but, when I finally took the plunge, I had to stop and re-read the first two pages to Mr. B.I.P. immediately, because it was the kind of funny that can’t just stay in your head but, instead, has to trip across your tongue and culminate in a shared laugh.

I’d like to copy the first two pages here, but I know that’s unreasonable, so here is a small taste from later in the book. The bear? He’s a writer. He found a manuscript in the woods and went to New York City and became a person. I can’t really say much more about this aspect of the story (except to say that I understand if you’re squinting at the mere thought of it, but it really does work in Kotzwinkle’s hands).

“It’s so fortunate I happened to be in New York just now,” said Zou Zou Sharr to the bear over cocktails at Elaine’s bar. Before becoming an agent for the Creative Management Corporation, she’d directed the Bel Air Diet Doctor’s empire and maintained her slender shape with his naturally artificially flavored products.”

Did you catch that? Naturally artificially. I love that. And I love the quick references throughout the book when another character is munching on one of the Bel Air products, the consistency of which is described using all sorts of words that one would more commonly expect to describe children’s arts and crafts and heavy-construction materials.

But here’s a bit more about Zou Zou:

“She had a fiery-red crown of power hair and a meltingly compassionate smile, which, when she was challenged by anyone, congealed to ice, as did her bright blue eyes. ‘It’s so much nicer to deal with an author in person,’ she said to Jam. ‘I’m wild about the book, of course,” she added, having read the coverage on it written by her agency’s eighteen-year-old reader.”

If you loved John McNally’s After the Workshop or Sam Savage’s Firmin, you’ll have a lot of laughs (or, at least, snorts or chuckles because yes, yes, humour is personal) over the bear’s navigation in the publishing world.

Still not sure it’s for you? Check out this interview (don’t worry: no spoilers).