My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Help! A bear is eating Marv Pushkin!
And, uh, that’s pretty much it. That was the easiest review I’ve ever written.
Well, okay, maybe that’s not all of it.
What happens when you have a complete narcissist stuck in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness (insert Sarah Palin joke here) underneath his SUV getting eaten by a bear? You have Help! A Bear is Eating Me! by Mykle Hansen.
It’s been said that there are three basic plots: Man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. himself. While this book at first seems like it would be man vs. nature just by the title alone, it quickly becomes apparent that this plot is actually man vs. himself. This book is a character study in its purest form. It’s told in a complete stream-of-consciousness style where you read Marv’s entire thought process during the days he is trapped under his SUV being slowly eaten by a bear and waiting for rescue. He flashes back to his version of events throughout his life and how it led up to him being in this predicament. There’s nothing left out of this stream, so you’ll read everything he’s thinking, hallucinations and all.
Marv Pushkin is probably on the most unlikable characters you will ever read about, which tests the literary hypothesis that the protagonist, while flawed, always needs to be likable, or at least redeemable, to the reader. Marv has no redeeming values. He’s an ad executive, a bully, a philanderer, and completely self-centered. He thinks of himself as a gift to the universe and that through the power of positive thinking, the universe is there to serve him. As the book progresses, though, you discover that everything is not peachy-keen with Marv. He’s got some serious demons and has a history of mental illness. At times, you’re not entirely sure if what he’s describing is what’s actually happening or if it’s just happening in his head. So, while he doesn’t have a redeeming value, he does have a certain sympathetic value, and the reader come to feel sorry for him. Whether the reader roots for him to get out of the situation is up to each individual reader and how sympathetic they actually are.
The stream-of-consciousness style of writing is often something that puts off a lot of people. I’m actually drawn to it. It’s fascinating to actually get into another person head and read every thought that goes through their mind, rather than the selected thoughts that many authors choose to show for the sake of plot. Marv, however, is the plot. In a sense, he’s correct in that he is the universe, at least as it pertains to this book.
The stream-of-consciousness does get a bit choppy at times, but for the most part it flows well with a few bumps here and there. I’m not entirely sold on the ending either (which is probably not what you’re expecting), but in its own way it worked, especially given what we learn about Marv during the course of the novel.
While this book is technically classified as bizarro fiction, the most bizarre thing about it is that it’s published by Eraserhead Press. There’s really nothing that bizarre about it. So if you’re expecting a genuine bizarro book, or what you may think of when you think about bizarre fiction, you’ll probably be disappointed. If you’re looking for a genuine character study of a severely broken man who doesn’t know he’s broken, then you’ll definitely want to read this.
Help! A Bear is Eating Me! by Mykle Hansen earns a solid 4 bear cubs out of 5.