The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen, 448 pages. Available now in hardcover or ebook from Atlantic Monthly Press.
In the summer of 1980, a heartbroken Letty Fleming and her three children arrive on a windswept Scottish island looking for time and space to understand the bewildering events that led to the loss of their husband and father. It soon becomes apparent, however, that somewhere between the elemental beauty and utter bleakness of the Outer Isles, extraordinary and rather magical forces are at play.
Ask an author what inspired their work and you never know what the response will be. Bella Pollen grew up visiting the Outer Hebrides and one summer particularly stood out due to a headline making wayward bear. Hercules, the grizzly, wandered from his trainer while filming a Kleenex commercial in 1980. But this story has little do with the bear or everything to do with the bear depending on your perspective. Curious?
As recently widowed Letty and her three children return to the comfort of their summer home reeling from their loss, they are quite fragile. Told from alternating viewpoints - each member of the Fleming family and the bear, of course - and shifting between past and present, it took this reader a little time to settle in. But I was rewarded for my patience, getting swept into the story's languid rhythm. Pollen captures the feeling of summer - the idleness and petty irritations of too much togetherness - and mixes it about with glorious characters and a bit of suspense. I particularly enjoy the parallels between the elusive bear and Nick, the beloved father and diplomat. And the undercurrent of the Cold War adds needed weight to the hazy, childlike atmosphere. Each of the children recall conversations with their father which provide not only helpful background insight, but convey Nick's warmth and wisdom. Jamie (the youngest Fleming and only boy) won me over quickly - he is exuberant and sweet, and easy to come alongside with his hopeful earnestness.
"The thing was, if Alba could love him, then the impossible became possible. The bear would be found. His lost father would come home, the hole in his heart would mend." p. 266
The layers are built slowly and skillfully,The Summer of the Bear has a depth I did not expect, but the end arrives with a rich payoff. I could not help but grin while exulting in how the pieces fit together so beautifully. If you are looking for a summer read with shimmer (not sizzle), I am happy to recommend this one. Hooray!
For more info check out the author's website: www.bellapollen.com
Thank you to Inkwell Management for the review copy.