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I could probably write for days about this novel. The end product would be incredibly long and dull but it would be a testament to how much I like this book. I will try to write an unbiased review but it will be hard because I am exceptionally biased.
Anyway, the review:
Assuming a level playing field who would win in a fight between a bear and a shark?
Chris Bachelders aptly named novel "Bear V Shark" explores a world obsessed by this question, a world full of psychotic Shark lovers and Country music singing Bear huggers.
The story: Curtis, a young American boy, wins an essay writing contest and as a result he and his family soon find themselves driving across America to Las Vegas. There they will witness 'Bear V shark 2' the sequel to the debatably botched "Bear V Shark" event 18 months earlier. The story revolves around the boys father, Mr Norman, as the disillusioned man increasingly begins to question the seemingly endless world of adverts, TV shows, violence and shark/bear love.
The story is simple (as is the question that started it) but underneath is a very, very thinly disguised satire about consumerism. Mr Norman struggles with his day to day life trying to remember if his memories are actually real or belong to some TV show he watched. At the same time he does his best to be a good father and husband but seems to systematically fail. Curtis meanwhile seems to be becoming increasingly desensitised to the world around him despite his genius and is the main focus of concern for Mr Norman.
Bachelders writing style is at once playful, simple and joyous whilst having deeper, sinister meanings. A two page chapter about a (probably fictitious) 'Cookie Cutter shark' is one example that seems to sum this point up nicely. On one hand you have a little shark with a cute name swimming about the ocean minding its own business. On the other hand this cute little shark wouldn't think twice about gouging a circular chunk of flesh out of larger marine animals with its many, many teeth. Bachelders self aware quip at the end of this chapter "Damn right it's a metaphor" is at once funny but somehow unsettling as it blurs the line between author and reader.
The constant advert breaks in the book are an obvious statement as the book basically reads like an enjoyable TV show constantly being interrupted. Chapters focusing on the family and their eventful journey even has threads of Television permeating through their day to day lives. Mr Norman can be having his train of thought while simultaneously his wife and sons have some inane conversation. This alone can be hard to follow, in terms of following dialogue, but is made more challenging as some TV with no off switch plays in the background, intertwining with the other conversations and really making life confusing for the reader. Some chapters do need re-reading a couple of times to even nearly understand what is going on.
But then the chapters are short. Very short. In one two page excerpt we have the inner monologue of Mr Norman as he fantasises of sharks, followed immediately by a one page chapter that is an advertisement for some cream you can apply to help stop babbling. The book continues like this until its climax; seemingly unrelated stories, jokes, adverts, characters and thoughts one after another, coming out of nowhere like the insane ramblings of a madman. Which of course they are, the book is sometimes little more than a vehicle for Bachelder to rant, although eloquently, about those things that annoy him. The author is very much a character in the book, literally. I can have a bit of a problem with authors inserting themselves into their own fictitious works as it allows seems a little bit self indulgent.
Having said that its pretty funny.
Despite self referencing authors and confusing conversations and advert breaks you very quickly get swept away with that all important question and ask yourself: who WOULD win in a fight between a bear and a shark? Which makes the end of the book a very easy goal to reach.