Day: January 17, 2017

by Ernest Thompson Seton

Note: there are SPOILERS in this post.

The story of a grizzly bear, different from Monarch the Big Bear of Tallac. The opening scene shows the bear cub gamboling charmingly with his siblings, the mother bear nearby. In the next chapter the mother bear is shot by a man, and only one cub- later named Wahb- survives. He is just old enough to make it on his own, but missing some crucial instructions he would have received from his mother, goes through a lot of struggles in his first year. Which ends up making him a sullen loner. Several run-ins with mankind leave him with a permanent limp and a deep fear and hatred of humans. The story shows how the bear holds his territory and drives out other, smaller bears. He even manages to drive men from his range- terrorizing them at homestead claims until his name becomes known and folks simply avoid the area. The bear is pretty smart- when first caught in a trap he accidentally treads on the spring that releases it; remembering this is later able to free himself from other traps. Further on in the story he finds a hot spring and discovers that soaking in the pool relieves the pain of his old injuries and he visits the pool many times for this purpose. In another part of the book the bear makes Yellowstone (then a very new park) part of his summer haunts, and there is even brief mention of the sick cub that fed on trash outside a lodge there (told in greater detail here).

For once, the main animal character in the story meets a peaceful end. The final chapters of the book was actually my favorite part. It describes how a younger bear seeking its own territory comes onto Wahb\’s land. This bear can tell that Wahb would be a formidable enemy, so it sneaks around for quite some time. Then it discovers a means to trick Wahb into thinking it is actually a larger bear. When the resident grizzly finds these marks, the apprehension of meeting the younger bear worries and wears on him. It was a really interesting description of the psychological conflict the two rival bears could have, one gradually pushing the other out even though they never had a direct encounter. In the end, Wahb goes into a gully where noxious gas seeping out of the ground makes him fall asleep, never to wake again. This is an actual place and I bet the description of dead bears found there gave Seton material for his story- he based most of his writings on observations or accounts of real wildlife.

My book is a 1914 edition, the story was first published in 1900. It seems to have been reprinted with several different titles- the image I show here is a newer edition which includes reference materials and historical information about the area Wahb lived in. I\’ve also seen an older edition titled King of the Grizzlies which I think is the same story.

Rating: 4/5     167 pages, 1900

by Pat Conroy

This is rich storytelling, and heavy reading. The novel is narrated by Jack McCall, one of five brothers who is living as an ex-pat in Rome with his daughter, and has vowed to never see his family again, or let them be part of his daughter\’s life. He is convinced to return by one thing: his mother is dying of cancer. Going back home- to South Carolina- is facing a rocky past. And not just his own past, but that of his parents, and their parents, and his wife\’s parents, and his childhood friends and so on. It covers so much pain, and so many dysfunctional relationships. Jack has one brother who is mentally ill (his heated parts of conversations stood out to me- the other brothers really blended together I forgot who was who constantly), a drunken father, and a mother who coldly manipulates everyone- or so they all said, frequently proclaiming their hatred for her. I never really got that part, though. Events that happened among friends when they were all students- yeah. Fear and loathing of his father who bullied them- yeah. The bad character of his mother- where were the stories about that?

There\’s so much going on in here it\’s hard to keep reading. Family secrets and betrayals. Pogroms in the Ukraine and the horrors of the Holocaust. Student riots during the Vietnam War. An old friend hiding from the law in Rome, in the guise of a priest. Rich cooking- Conroy does like to talk about food, doesn\’t he? Dirt poor living conditions in an Appalachian valley- I\’d never read descriptions of people who worship by handling live poisonous snakes before. Oh, and sea turtles being rescued. By the protagonist\’s mother. That part really felt unrelated to anything else- was it just to show a sympathetic side to that character… ? Ramblings in the low country, a near-disastrous fishing trip where they encountered a giant manta ray- that part felt really far-fetched. But I have to say, Pat Conroy is a darn good storyteller. For most of the book I rolled with the ebb and flow of shifting storylines, curious to see how each character\’s past had made them what they were, how it affected and influenced all the others in turn- until I suddenly didn\’t care anymore, because well, it was just so much to take in and I didn\’t particularly like any of them.

I almost didn\’t finish. All this buildup to tell the pivotal, ruinous event that had occurred when the friends were at college, and when I had a hundred pages to go I just didn\’t want to read more. The political turmoil of the Vietnam War era wore on me. The mock trial staged in a theater where all the characters involved were brought together to air their grievances and explain themselves- felt so overly convenient. In the end, the big reveal didn\’t seem like a huge deal compared to all the rest of the brutality that happened in the book. I must temper that by saying there is plenty of love in these pages, too- and moments of bravery, unlooked-for compassion, people standing up for what\’s right, even humor. But I skimmed the last few chapters just because I couldn\’t bear to call a 700-plus page book abandoned if I lost interest near page 672.

Rating: 3/5            773 pages, 2009

more opinions:
A Guy\’s Moleskine Notebook
who else?

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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