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The Bear Comes Home Hardcover – July, 1997

41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

As Rafi Zabor's PEN-Faulkner Award-winning novel opens, the Bear shuffles and jigs with a chain through his nose, rolling in the gutter, letting his partner wrestle him to the ground for the crowd's enjoyment. But as soon becomes clear, this is no ordinary dancing bear. "I mean, dance is all right, even street dance. It's the poetry of the body, flesh aspiring to grace or inviting the spirit in to visit," he muses, but before all else, the Bear's heart belongs to jazz. This is, in fact, one alto-sax-playing, Shakespeare-allusion-dropping, mystically inclined Bear, and he's finally fed up with passing the hat. One night he sneaks out to a jazz club and joins a jam session. On the strength of the next day's write-up in the Village Voice, the Bear begins to play around town and hobnob with some of jazz's real-life greats. A live album, a police raid, a jailbreak, a cross-country tour, and no small amount of fame later, Bear finds himself in love with a human woman--and staring down the greatest improbability of all.

Admittedly, a novel about a talking, sax-blowing bear may not initially seem everyone's cup of tea, but Zabor's Bear is no cuddly anthropomorph: "I may be wearing a hat and a raincoat, thought the Bear, but no one's gonna mistake me for Paddington." He lives, he suffers, he loves--in fact, the love scenes come as something of a shock, and not just for the usual interspecies reasons. Who knew that the description of a bear's reproductive mechanisms could be so tender or so unabashedly erotic? Most of all, though, The Bear Comes Home evokes the world of improvisational jazz with consummate skill; Zabor, a longtime jazz journalist and drummer, writes about music with a passion and inspiration seldom found on the printed page. A wistful fable about an artist's coming of age, a brilliantly satiric send-up of the music business and jazz criticism, The Bear Comes Home is a debut much like that of the Bear himself: transcendent, unexpected, wise.

--Mary Park

From Library Journal

A frustrated saxophonist crashes a New York City nightclub gig, beginning a reputation as a much-talked-about, mysterious figure in the jazz world. Along the way, he goes through the rigors of touring, garners a recording contract, does time in prison, and wins the love of a good woman. Pretty standard fare? Wait?factor in that our hero is a real live walking and talking bear. Nothing wrong with that, but unlike William Kotzwinkle's recent The Bear Went Over the Mountain (LJ 6/1/96), which plays the "bear about town" scenario for laughs, first novelist Zabor asks us to take the bear's odyssey fairly seriously, expecting us to accept the bear in these situations as easily as the book's characters do. This is a shame, because Zabor's scenes of musical life are vivid and knowledgeable, and his dialog is uniformly excellent; adding that talking bear seems gimmicky and at odds with the effective reality of the work. With all this strong material, one wonders why the main character is a bear. Perhaps to sell more books? For larger fiction collections.
-?Marc A. Kloszewski, Indiana Free Lib., Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (July 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393040372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393040371
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.7 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,006,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Christian E. Doering on July 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a hellaciously entertaining read: funny, melancholy, erotic, scathingly satirical. And the language occasionally reaches magical heights of realism. There are webs of words in here that will give you glimpses of actual experience itself - surely the ultimate writer's conjuring trick. The book's hero incarnates an audacious leap of the imagination: he's a Caucasian circus bear, who can talk, reads literature, studies mysticism, and... plays the alto sax. The Bear heightens the duality of human nature - part angel, part animal - in order to explore it. It's a satirical premise that illuminates many of the contradictions lurking in the depths of our contemporary social mythos - our ambivalence towards Nature red in tooth and claw, our reduction of even the most transcendent art to commodity, our acceptance of lives that are pale shadows of their potential. If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a professional musician, The Bear Comes Home will satisfy your curiosity. If you've ever been involved in the performing arts, you will recognize many of the situations. Among its many treasures, The Bear is stunningly effective as an evocation of the seemingly constant frustration and occasional epiphanies of the creative process. It's also a dead-on portrait of the jazz life, a deeply felt exploration of the complexity of human relationships. Most amazingly, The Bear himself never collapses into a man in a bear suit. It's not that tough to devise and describe an unusual protagonist. But by the third act, even faerie queens and immortal vampires descend to the same petty, mundane emotions that drive your personal soap opera as relentlessly as they do mine. The Bear is different.Read more ›
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 18, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Rafi Zabor takes us on two magical journeys without us even knowing it. The first is the material world in which the bear lives in, complete with all his struggles and triumphs. The other is the world inside Bears head. Zabor writes the two so seamlessly together that you never notice where you are at the time. The flow of the narrative resembles that of a jazz solo: always testing new borders and limits but never breaking our attention span. Zabor goes off on character thought tangents with the greatest of ease, painting a delicate picture of each character. One memorable example of this is the Bear's romp through the woods midway through the book. He returns to the woods to reflect on past events. The author so ingeniously weaves the details of the physical environment with what the Bear is thinking at the moment and why. This is a beautifully crafted book that never ceases to lose our imagination in its musical flow, like honey on the brain.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Every musician or anyone who believes they have a special harmony with music should read this humorous, insightful and moving book.
The author does a good job of digging deep into the higher meanings of music and life, but knows when to pull in the reins at the right moment (Isn't that right, Bucky?) And anyone who can write a book that holds James Garner's Rockford Files, Thelonious Monk and great German philosophers in equal regard can't be all that bad.
I think this is mentioned on the back cover, but it bears repeating: Like a good solo, the author throws in every lick he knows and avoids cliche's.
One of my favourite images of the book is the bear teaching a "bird" in the woods Monk's "Well You Needn't." It had its blatent and hidden messages, but, when at the end of the book the "bird" returns to haunt the bear with the half learned tune ("Need - n't") and the bear replies, "Well, at least it isn't 'Nevermore'," we smile. It is like throwing "Here Comes the Sun" in the middle of a solo during "Summertime". It is immediately recognizable and appreciated. We all are in on the joke.
Although some of the Monk and jazz analysis went over my head, I found the book enjoyable from start to finish. The only exception being the sex scene between the bear and his human girlfriend in graphic detail. They were two of the hardest pages to get through and I'm still wondering why the author felt he had to include it in the book. Perhaps it was to show the bear not as this mystical musical being, but something more normal, more flesh and blood.
Read this book, pass it on or buy it as a present for the musician in your life (they'll love you for it). However, be prepared for the perplexed looks and stares when you start describing this "book about a saxophone playing bear.... No it's not a children's book..."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By jmbm on November 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
I stumbled upon this book at a tiny trade-in library at a hotel in Mexico while on vacation. I had my doubts given the anthropomorphizing of a bear and the focus on jazz, about which I know relatively little. However, I was very pleasantly surprised by the writing, plot, and development of the bear's character. I enjoyed the use of the bear as allegory for the alienated man among us. Zabor was quite good at making the bear's experience and that of the other characters accessible given the universality of their emotional lives.

On a more concrete level I have to say that I did not quite understand the bear's fascination with Iris, who was a chilly withholding woman who did not seem to appreciate his attributes at all. In fact, their liaison bothered me throughout the book and it seemed uncompelling. The sex scenes were a bit disturbing, too, but kind of like a car crash that you can't help but look at.

In all, I was very engrossed in this book but felt it had its flaws. Like other reviewers, I was disappointed with the ending. It just seemed to fall short. Plus, I was hoping he'd spontaneously dump Iris and move on to a better life. I'm just glad that Zabor didn't have Iris become impregnated with the bear's baby. For a moment there during the tour scenes, I thought he might be going in that direction. You never really know since the premise of the book was kind of "out there" to start.

I would recommend this book to select people who can suspend judgment and can tolerate lengthy abstract passages about jazz/improvisation.
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