Bear Like Me by Jonathan Cohen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Bear Like Me is a satirical look at the gay bear community. It’s a little dated as a contemporary piece but the humor translates for the most part if you’re looking for something very light and heavy on the obvious puns. The ending is ridiculous and completely over the top but that’s mostly the point. It’s meant to be outrageous and unbelievable with one gag after the next. The characters are decent and likable to a point but none stand out very much. In the end this is a fun, easy book to read but not one I’ll especially remember.
The premise of the story starts with hero Peter Mallory being fired from his journalism job for wanting to write more intellectual pieces than the glossy magazine wanted. From that moment, Peter is obsessed with getting revenge on the magazine and director. Yet since Peter needs an income, he decides to write a book about the bear niche within the gay community and that necessitates becoming a bear. Armed with these two goals Peter starts a humorous and outrageous journey of self discovery and obsession.
The story itself is pretty easy to follow if you can suspend a good deal of disbelief. It’s immediately obvious this is a satire and the story never misses a chance to point out a pun or bad joke. Peter’s actions are flat out ridiculous. Each circumstance, and his resulting actions, is more outrageous than the last culminating in perhaps the most laughable (in a bad way) ending. While I could go with the humor of the story and the obvious camp style, the ending simply is too much and lost me with the super easy, convenient solution to all problems.
Up to that point though the writing and characters are amusing. Peter’s evolution into the bear lifestyle shows a lot of intimate knowledge. The author is obviously well versed in that atmosphere and shows both the good and bad sides to the minority within a minority. The community is shown with both heroes and villains and lends a comic air to the actions while also shining an intimate light into likely very real scenarios. This duality is nicely depicted and lets the readers in on the jokes – perhaps too much.
While the humor is enjoyable and makes the pages fly by incredibly quick, it also lacks any subtly. The characters are exaggerations and the situations tend to be extreme. Peter’s actions are largely devoid of any rational, logical decision making, which makes him unlikable. Yet his earnest desire to find love may have some readers rooting for him regardless. I wish the writing had included more nuance and didn’t go for the obvious joke all the time. However that said, the story is fun to read for the most part and an easy popcorn read on a hot summer day.