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The Bear Went Over the Mountain

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William Kotzwinkle, the esteemed author of The Fan Man and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, is in top comic form in this outrageous and uproarious parable featring Hal Jam--a big black bear who finds a manuscript under a tree in the Maine woods, dons a suit and a tie, and heads off to the big city to seek his fame and fortune. What follows is a riotous magical romp with the buoyant Hal Jam as he leaves the quiet, nurturing world of the forest for the glittering and corrupt world of humans. New York and Hollywood and all that lies between serve as an expansive palette for Kotzwinkle's wickedly funny satiric brush. The Bear Went Over the Mountain skewers our age's obsession with money and fame in a delicious bedtime story for grown-ups.

320 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 1996

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About the author

William Kotzwinkle

85 books222 followers
William Kotzwinkle is a two-time recipient of the National Magazine Award for Fiction, a winner of the World Fantasy Award, the Prix Litteraire des Bouquinistes des Quais de Paris, the PETA Award for Children's Books, and a Book Critics Circle award nominee. His work has been translated into dozens of languages.

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5 stars
579 (26%)
4 stars
772 (35%)
3 stars
560 (25%)
2 stars
217 (9%)
1 star
67 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 330 reviews
Profile Image for Melki.
5,789 reviews2,339 followers
March 14, 2016
"A bear stole my book."

And so begins the tale of a bear who finds a briefcase containing one would-be-writer's manuscript, steals a suit of clothing, and heads to the big city where he is instantly embraced as the latest literary darling. Comparisons to a certain manly, bearded author seem inevitable.

"Anybody ever tell you how much you resemble Hemingway?"


"Yes, who indeed. I think you might be just the one to make people forget him."

Of course, there's still the fact that even though those around him don't seem to notice, the celebrated writer is a bear . . .

The bear sniffed, enjoying the weave of perfumes and colognes in the air, which made him feel as if he were in a field of flowers. He sipped some wine. His only previous experience of alcohol was a bottle of cooking sherry he'd downed while rampaging in the kitchen of that rural Maine restaurant; its effect had been blurred by the great number of pies that'd accompanied its ingestion. Now the effect was more noticeable and his sensitivity to the fragrant air increased. His nose, which for years had led his instincts, led him now, without deliberation, without preliminary weighing of what was at stake. He slid out of his chair and down onto the floor of the restaurant, where he rolled around with his paws in the air as a bear will do when he finds a field of flowers that fills him with happiness.

And then there is his order placed at the same restaurant:


"Yes, they do it skewered with tomatoes, mushrooms, and green peppers."

"Raw," said the bear, with a resurgence of primal authority.


"Raw female. Lots of eggs. In my teeth." The bear tapped at his incisors.

My god, thought Boykins. He is another Hemingway."

The resemblance is indeed uncanny -


Oy vey, this was a frustrating read!

The chapters about the bear are wonderful, imaginative and laugh-out-loud funny. BUT, for some reason, Kotzwinkle chose to alternate them with the story of the real author and his attempts to write another book. He bobbles around, meeting colorful characters while trying to "find himself." Snore! Sorry, but these bits really dragged down the rest of the story. If I ever read this again, I'll stick to just the parts about the bear. Like this description of his apartment:

Light came from bubbling Lava lamps. A painting on velvet, of a trout, hung on the wall. The walls themselves were covered with a bright nursery paper depicting teddy bears playing with balloons. A beanbag chair, loosely molded to the bear's shape, was in front of a big-screen television set. He was seated in it now, watching a cartoon. He turned on the lamp beside him which had beads of illuminated oil that fell in a shower around a gold-tinted plaster Venus. The bear was especially fond of this object. This was because he was a bear.

(Aaa! My grandparents had one of those lamps! I used to love that thing.)

And then there's this look inside bear's mind:

The music throbbed, and the bear nodded happily whenever anyone picked up a sweet. My party, he said to himself proudly. Going off without a hitch. He held a caramel up to the light. Everything a piece of candy should be. He popped it into his mouth, and the tips of his fangs gleamed. Most bears couldn't handle an evening like this. They'd probably tense up and bite someone.

They probably would. Most bears should not be trusted.

The bear's story - 5 stars. Minus boring writer bits = 3 stars

Profile Image for Beverly.
806 reviews293 followers
September 26, 2017
A tasty treat, I had to finish it a day after starting. A bear finds an unpublished manuscript, recognizes its potential as a best seller, and goes to New York to seek his fortune. A delight from start to finish,
Profile Image for Daniel.
722 reviews51 followers
May 15, 2014
This book is amazing. I read it in my late teens; I read it in my late twenties; and I have read it a third time in my mid-thirities. Every time I have read this book, I have loved it.

Reading it now, what strikes me is the word-play that Kotzwinkle employs to both underline the ridiculous situation he has created and the fun that can be had thereafter. The phrase, "because he was a bear," works time and time again to great effect.

I am sure that I will return to this book again--and that I will, once again, be happy to find myself within its pages.

* * * * *

A bear finds a manuscript, and decides to pose as the writer. Within days, he is considered the new literary sensation.

Somehow, Kotzwinkle manages to juggle the reality of a bear posing as a human with the inherent absurdity of the idea. He never sets up the story so that Hal Jam - as the bear names himself - appears to be human; he is always a bear. The joke is on everyone who surrounds him: these literary elite are so full of themselves and the business that the perpetuate, they lose sight of little details - such as the fact that their latest talent is a big grizzly bear who can't speak in full sentences.

This book makes me laugh out loud. Through Hal's attempts to fit in with humanity, Kotzwinkle crafts a funny satire of the literary world.
Profile Image for Stephanie.
152 reviews4 followers
July 30, 2013
I didn't finish the book. At page 71 when the female publicist recounts what having sex with Hal Jam aka the bear was like. I tried to go along with it being a grown-up fable, and Kotzwinkle is funny and clever, so I could appreciate that it was satire despite my struggle with none of the humans being able to tell he was a bear simply because he had a book they wanted to market and because he was wearing clothes. I know it was meant to say more than that, and I kept suspending disbelief over it, because it's the whole point of the book and I didn't want to resign myself to being a killjoy, but seriously... the dialogue was completely carried by the humans, with the bear interjecting "ice cream" or "I want pie" or "more honey" or rolling around on the ground or growling ... I was interested to see where it would go and what it would say about the writing industry, society, etc - but when bestiality happened, I was done.

I enjoyed the sections featuring Arthur, the human who wrote the manuscript the bear stole. He was a pathetic character, but he was growing on me, and the simple characters around him made me laugh quite a bit.

Maybe I'm a prude, but... I'm done with this book and wish Goodreads had an option for "didn't finish it."
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
83 reviews
March 4, 2008
I thought the idea of this book was interesting and unique. A bear finds, steals, and passes off as his own a book written by a professor. The chapters alternate between the bear who is pretending to be human and the professor who is becoming more and more like a bear. The reactions of the people around the bear are funny . . . they hear long self serving answers in the bear's short, nonsensical answers. This is great commentary on the nature of fame, publicity, and even the academic profession. But the joke gets old quickly and is sometimes carried too far. This would have made a great short story.
Profile Image for 🐴 🍖.
349 reviews28 followers
April 18, 2020
definitely the best book about a bear becoming a bestselling novelist (& cheesy thing spokesperson) after stealing a manuscript from under a tree that i've read in the last little bit... the central joke (ppl mistaking statements from the bear like "honey" & "i hate dogs" for profundities) never gets old. infelicities are twofold: (1) a horrible spastic attempt at a.a.v.e. when the bear goes to harlem and (2) the chapters about the wronged novelist are far less funny/cutting than the chapters about the bear, which is always a danger when alternating pov's like this. other best gag: the academic whose whole career is computing the rate of similes per page in robert frost poems
Profile Image for Derek Haines.
Author 29 books1,277 followers
February 24, 2011
I would have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed ninety-five percent of this read. A fantastic plot and it kept me giggling to myself almost all the way through. Hal Jam grabbed me from the moment he stole the briefcase and manuscript. Hardly fair, but the characterization of literary agents gave me a good laugh. Great read for any writer. The only criticism I have is that the ending seemed to be all a bit rushed. I wonder if an editor was making it fit into a word count?
Profile Image for Eric Susak.
315 reviews9 followers
January 16, 2014
This magical-realist take on stolen identity is not only comical, it also analyzes how one's nature and preconceptions influence their understanding of the world.
Profile Image for Thibaut.
126 reviews15 followers
August 23, 2022
Dan Flakes est un ours qui, après avoir découvert un manuscrit caché sous un arbre d’une forêt du Maine, va bousculer la scène littéraire, atteindre la célébrité et caracoler en tête de liste des meilleures ventes, grâce à ce best-seller adroitement subtilisé à son véritable auteur, Arthur Bramhall, professeur à l’université.

C’est original et décalé, certes, avec quelques dialogues qui valent vraiment le détour, mais cette critique du monde de l’édition part, selon moi, dans tous les sens et trop loin dans l’absurde. Les personnages sont trop peu décrits pour qu’on puisse s’y attacher. Ils sont multiples et on connaît tout juste le strict minimum sur chacun d’eux, à tel point que je lisais parfois certains passages sans saisir ou me rappeler de qui l’auteur voulait parler.

Au global, c’est le bazar et une lecture peu fluide qui ne me laissera certainement pas un souvenir impérissable, même si je comprends que ce livre ait pu plaire à d’autres de par sa différence.
Profile Image for Ben Rogers.
2,305 reviews143 followers
March 29, 2021
This was a strange read! Bonkers at times.

First off, thanks to Scott Bromley for recommending this one!

I felt that it started off well, and was quite interesting. But I have to say, it got quite silly about half way through.

I felt the writing and story actually quite similar to the writing of Kafka and Abe - notably the book The Box Man comes to mind. Similar in theme and "transformation".

Profile Image for John Frankham.
658 reviews7 followers
January 21, 2014
I couldn't be bothered to write my own review of this puerile, pretentious book. The following is the previous review that fits my views best:

I really didn't care for this book. It started off amusing but really went downhill for me. If this is supposed to be a modern fairytale then the only conclusion I can make from it is that crime pays. The author does not appear to think much of the publishing/entertainment industry, politics, or women. Come to think of it, he doesn't seem to think much of humanity as a whole. The women in this book are two dimensional and self-serving and the men neurotic and stupid. He seems to feel that the only thing that differentiates humanity from other animals is the way and frequency we have sex. The gratuitous language and sex really didn't work for me and make me question why I found this book with the young adult books. Not a book I would recommend for a young adult. Actually, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone.
Profile Image for Blair.
286 reviews14 followers
January 6, 2010
I don't know which character I'm supposed to sympathize with; if any. I can see the similarities drawn between this book and "Forrest Gump". Hal Jam (the bear) floats along without saying much but is still handed the keys to the kingdom. In the end I felt sorry for Art Bramhall, who we are led to believe has found happiness with his character assassinated, his identity stolen and the loss of a chance of millions of dollars. No, he's happy in the forest having traded places with the bear. I didn't buy it.
I found the supporting cast more interesting, especially the country folks they parade out with interesting back-stories. I did find the interview segments hilarious. I also enjoyed the way the urban cast twisted whatever Hal said (or didn't say) to fit whatever the situation warranted. I could have enjoyed this more if the ending had taken a different turn.
Profile Image for Sterlingcindysu.
1,341 reviews48 followers
June 19, 2010
Cute and fluffy. (copied review) You might think that a writer best-known for novelizing the movie "E.T." would find a satire on the book publishing industry hitting a bit close to home, but William Kotzwinkle seems quite comfortable with the task in this comic fable. In Kotzwinkle's merry send-up, the author of the hit novel "Desire and Destiny" is a bear, a real bear, who after finding the manuscript under a spruce tree and attaching his nom de plume, Hal Jam, becomes rich and famous overnight. Obtuse editors, star-hound agents, and a right-wing televangelist and Presidential candidate all warm to Hal's warm, bearish honesty without bothering to read his book--or to notice that he's an animal, for that matter.
Profile Image for Chris Meichtry.
46 reviews
April 20, 2021
Not quite what I expected, in a disappointing way, but it was a funny book. I just expected something a bit more...endearing, I suppose. Unfortunately, none of the characters are likeable—or well-developed, really—and the plot wasn't terribly compelling. It was like a long, drawn-out Chicken Boo skit with a bit of Kafka sprinkled throughout, along with a bit of racial insensitivity and misogyny. Despite its faults, however, I did find myself laughing quite often, especially during the bear's thought processes. Overall, I think this is worth reading but I feel like it would work better as a movie.
Profile Image for Mark.
646 reviews10 followers
May 10, 2023
I read this book right after it came out but had forgotten most of it. In the spirit of "Being There" and "Forrest Gump", an unlikely character, in this case, a bear, is thrust into the limelight after stealing a manuscript.
It requires a lot of suspension of belief to think that no one would notice that it's a bear wearing clothes that can both read and speak, but if you can overcome that hurdle, it's great fun.
After "his" book hits the bestseller list, he makes the rounds of talk shows and radio programs on a promotional tour where his terse, often monosyllabic way of speaking is interpreted as profundity.
In truth, he just wants to remain part of the human world because food is so plentiful and easy to acquire.
I did feel sympathy for Arthur Bramhall, the actual author of the book, and was disappointed in the ending.
Still, it's a charming little fable.
Profile Image for David G.
437 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2020
a fun curio of another era and style, sorta east coast liberal hippie rant skewering the entertainment industry and everything else in its way.
A bear finds a manuscript and starts his adventure to fame and fortune, while the original author goes on his own quest.
Funny piece, though for me it had made it's mark at the halfway point and kinda stayed in that groove.
And purveyors of 80's movies will see a definite similarity to Being There,though to menthe bear had more intention and forethought than Chance the Gardener.

all in all avery entertaining read,especially after the crime fiction and AIDS fiction I had been reading.
Profile Image for Silo.
64 reviews
July 13, 2022
The most obvious way I can describe this book would be to say "what if Forest Gump was a Bear". In this book, a Bear (named Hal Jam) finds a book manuscript and takes it to the city for fame and fortune. Really funny
Profile Image for Carmen.
296 reviews2 followers
January 13, 2019
A enjoyable read...a completely different take than I imagined! Who knew a bear’s perspective would be or could be so hilarious?
Profile Image for Pam.
170 reviews
September 5, 2021
This was genuinely like nothing else I’ve ever read. It was fast paced, really clever and utterly absurd at times!

Without doubt, one of my favourite lines (repeated frequently, to remind us foolish humans, reading the novel) throughout, was the line…’because he is a bear’. You genuinely believe in Hal Jam and cringe, giggle and hoot with joy as you go with him on the roller coaster of his journey into being a person!
Profile Image for Kendall.
25 reviews3 followers
December 15, 2019
One time read. This book started weak in my opinion. Kotzwinkle set the story well in the first two chapters but then the next 100 pages were not as intriguing. Almost stopped. The end was humorous in ways I could appreciate and unfolded the plot so that I was grateful to have pressed on. Only recommend if you can appreciate satire and are 21 or older.
Profile Image for Richard.
55 reviews1 follower
March 2, 2022
Over the years I've read a fair few books, true, but my slush pile of unread titles contains multitudes. A case in point: William Kotzwinkle's The Bear Went Over the Mountain. Published way back in 1997, it has only taken me 25 years to get round to reading it. My still rather pristine copy has been on quite a journey with me, this last quarter-century. It has been through several home-moves but has always sat on one bookcase or another, waiting hopefully for its day to come.
Ultimately, it feels like a rather charming tale (or is that tail?) from an altogether different age, a satirical fable for adults (very much adults, this is most definitely not for kids), almost naïve when considered from a 21st-century viewpoint which captures the mood of the late 1990s pretty well.
The story - inspired by the nursery rhyme of the same name? - involves a bear who heads off with an author's freshly written novel to make it big, posing as the book's actual author. The various agents, publicists and lawyers who come into the bear's orbit see and hear what they want and, as such, make for a wry indictment of an industry and world which (both then and now) pushes the 'next big thing', regardless of whether people have ever read a word of the text or the merit of the text itself.
As is the nature of these things, the bear gets into several, often eyebrow-raising and usually quite humorous scrapes. These set-pieces, which take pot-shots at various aspects of the publishing and political worlds, are consistently entertaining and told with real warmth.
So, an affably diverting read and, having also read Kotzwinkle's novelisation of E. T. - The Extra-Terrestrial - actually around 1982, when it was published - I would like to track down more of his works and, ideally, before another quarter century skips by. He is very readable but with a slight edge to proceedings.
Returning, for a moment, to The Bear Went Over the Mountain to comment as a 21st-century reader: how the world has changed in 25 years! In 1997 a bear interloping as an author was fairy-tale territory. In 2022, while actual bears posing as authors is still not a thing (although, it wouldn't surprise me, if you looked far enough on social media...), many other bizarre things have come to pass - in publishing and politics, both in the US and elsewhere - and, as a result, this incredulous tale does not feel as radical or absurd as I'm sure it once did.
In the UK, the book has been out of print since its first publishing, which is a pity as it remains worthy of a wider audience - although, some 1990s references are now quite jarring, especially a couple in relation to Princess Diana which, shortly after the book's original publication, would have felt crass, particularly in the UK.
Was the 25-year wait worth it?
Overall, yes, if all you want is a wry smile and an opportunity to reflect on how different the world has become... in some respects...
Profile Image for Jeff.
558 reviews10 followers
July 30, 2017
Is it better to be a famous, critically acclaimed author, or a bear? This books asks those questions, but leaves the reader to draw his/her own conclusions. An English professor goes on sabbatical to a cabin in the Maine woods to write a novel. The briefcase containing his manuscript gets stolen by a bear, who somehow finds his way to a literary agent in New York City and passes the work off as his own and becomes a literary sensation. Nobody seems to notice that he is a bear, which only adds to the absurd humor of the book. The professor, meanwhile, has befriended a woodsman and is thinking of writing another book, all the while become more and more bear-like. This is a brilliant satire, poking fun at high society and the literary establishment in particular. It is laugh out loud funny!
Profile Image for Cindy.
603 reviews
October 10, 2011
I didn't FINISH the book; I finished READING the book. There is a difference. It had been on my TBR list for so long, I forgot why I put it on there. Guess the back blurb..."complicated satire, hilarious fun, and barbs of steel amid fields of whimsy" called out to me some years ago. I shouldn't have answered.
Basic premise of the book: A bear finds a manuscript in a briefcase in the woods, and pretends he is the author. Jeepers. That should have stopped me right there.
I've found that anything described as 'hilarious' rarely is. The word should be banned, right along with 'awesome'.
Profile Image for John.
1,163 reviews24 followers
May 20, 2010
A Bookcrossing book passed from Dot. A funny story of a bear that steal a manuscript that turns in to a best seller. Everyone around him is so wrapped up in his celebrity that they don't recognize that he is a bear. The book pokes fun at all sorts of modern life.

If you like this type of story try reading Happiness: A Novel the story of another best seller that spins out of control - very funny. It was originally titled "Generica"
Profile Image for Susan.
43 reviews2 followers
December 18, 2008
This book is so funny and quirky that you just have to read it. I heard about it on an NRP interview about books to cure the winter blahs -- and they were right on.

The premise is that the main character is a bear who finds a lost manuscript and takes over the authors life. Everyone thinks the bear is "fresh" and "wordly" and wants to ride the coat tails of this up and coming new "author."
Profile Image for Tofu.
89 reviews16 followers
May 8, 2017
Difficile d'appréhender ce roman ... le mot qui me vient à l'esprit est "foutraque". C'est drôle et satyrique, mais ça va tellement trop loin dans l'absurde que j'ai eu du mal à rester accrochée ... et pourtant, toujours ce rythme, une petite réplique, et hop, on a envie quand même de voir où l'auteur veut nous emmener.
11 reviews
April 28, 2022
Could not finish this book. I read half of it but couldn’t go any further. The characters aren’t developed or likable and the story is extremely weird. I thought I could just get use to the fact that it’s weird and finish it but no. Too messed up for me. Misogynistic book, we start the book with one bear and finish it with two I suppose.
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