Cover Image: Stories of the Mother Bear

Stories of the Mother Bear

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Member Reviews

Thank you NetGalley for the opportunity to read Stories of The Mother Bear in exchange for my honest review.  I had a difficult time from the beginning.  I found it  hard to read and make sense of what was happening. To be honest I basically read the beginning skimmed through the middle and read the end. It was not at all what I expected, therefore I will not be making a recommendation nor discouragement about reading the book
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I rarely mark "no" when asked if I would assign or recommend a book to students. This may in fact be the first time. Stories of the Mother Bear is waiting to be embraced by those who appreciate it's subjects and style. The  author has previously written love letters to New York City and to Yellowstone National Park and is obviously a woman with finely honed perceptions and a desire to share her enchantment with readers. Given the very mixed reviews already written, I'd recommend using the Amazon Look Inside feature to better judge your book/reader compatibility.
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A beautiful and heartwarming story about growing up during the Vietnam War, the magic of the Tetons, and a sage mother bear whose lessons persist through many generations.

Bill Larkin was born in Nebraska in 1945 to a refrigeration tech and a mother who took up pottery as her kids grew older. From a very young age, his family went camping in the Tetons, where he first encountered the legendary Mother Bear and her three cubs, who continued to visit him in his dreams for years to come. As Bill reached high school, the Vietnam War was in full swing and the divisions between those who would willingly enlist and those who would conscientiously object were never more stark. Bill never supported the war, but when his friend Richard was killed in battle while he was away at college for journalism, he found a deep passion for human interest reporting that eventually led him back to the Tetons.

When a man named Rufus Headricks passed away in 1977, a collection of writings about the Mother Bear was discovered in his attic. Bill took his family on a camping trip to see if he could get another glimpse of the mythical bear and pull together a story on this fantastical discovery. A two-week trip spread into an annual pilgrimage, ultimately resulting in a full-time move to Jackson Hole in 1983, to the very house in which Rufus had passed away. But as his years in Jackson Hole progressed, his days became fuller of sorrow and despair, as tragedy struck his household again and again. As Bill learns to forgive himself for his missteps, his eldest son Jesse sets out on his own path in life, carrying forward the legacy of the Mother Bear.

I appreciated the depth of the biographical sketches in this book, although I often found them difficult to follow. There are many, many side characters, some of whom are briefly mentioned and then disappear for years before the reader is expected to pick them up right where they left off. They all seem to speak in spurts and stammers, with an extreme overuse of ellipses and half-sentences. Those elements made it difficult to understand the trajectory of the novel as I was reading it, but it came together well in the end. I was particularly confused in the middle as the collected stories of the Mother Bear were retold and the perspective eventually shifted from Bill to Rufus's grandfather and then back. I was already awash in characters I couldn't keep straight, and that just added to the confusion. Although I did enjoy the historical perspective on the Mother Bear over the decades.

I was disappointed by the stereotypical portrayal of people of the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes, as well as of enslaved Blacks. Characters with these identities were, on the whole, flat outside of these identifiers. All of the American Indian characters had names like "Stands In The Middle" and "Wind Upon The Waters" and "White Wolf Spirit." Religious elements like guardian spirits are incorporated in a way that seemed very whitewashed and superficial. Language loss in the Shoshone and Arapaho tribes is portrayed as a result of children "choosing" to converse more in English after attending boarding schools (that their parents "willingly" sent them to). Discussions of slavery demonized other enslaved people for colorism. When written by a woman who appears by all accounts to be white, these elements become exceptionally problematic. 

Overall, it's a nice little story, but it does come off anachronistic these days, both in its cultural elements and its centering of the Vietnam Conflict without really being about that.
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I enjoyed the book but am still so confused.  It has left me speechless as I just don't really understand what I read.
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