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Scott Reads Terrible Erotica: Marian Engel’s “Bear”

Scott Reads Terrible Erotica: Marian Engel’s “Bear” published on No Comments on Scott Reads Terrible Erotica: Marian Engel’s “Bear”

Warning: This article is slightly NSFW. 

So, guys, I have a secret to share with all of you: I fucking love terrible erotica.

The cover of "Bear" by Marian EngelReading awful erotica is like eating an entire bag of potato chips to me. I love contrived plots, I love bad sex scenes in improbable situations, and a book gets bonus points if the scene itself doesn’t make any biological sense. If the act is either physically impossible or allows for no sexual pleasure whatsoever then I am absolutely joyful when I read it. Astute listeners of the Hit Continue podcast could correctly guess that this is a large reason why I continue to watch ABC’s Quantico.

Which brings me to Bear.

Bear is a book I’ve been conceptually fascinated by for a couple years now, ever since I was directed to this imgur post about it. For a long time I lamented the fact that the book was out of print, and then by some miracle a friend of mine was able to give it to me for Christmas last year. It’s only about 120 pages, so I was able to read it in an afternoon.

Based on the imgur post, I was lead to believe not only that Bear was a story about a woman who falls in love with a grizzly bear, but that so many people in my home country love that concept that it won a Governor General’s Award. Obviously this warranted further investigation. And I gotta say, I’m disappointed.

Since I know you’re all curious, Bear tells the story of a woman who works for a Canadian museum. An eccentric old millionaire dies without a will and his estate is purchased by (or possibly defaults to) this museum. It is up to our heroine to go out to his big ol’ mansion in the middle of a lake in Ontario and catalogue all his shit for like, three months. No people, no television, no WiFi (I mean, it was written in the 80s so there was no WiFi anyway but still) no nothing for a couple months. She prefers it that way, because I dunno. She’s a loner I guess. She’s the prototypical Harlequin Romance femme which means that she doesn’t have a super active social life.

She gets there and it turns out that the most eccentric thing this eccentric old man did was keep a full-grown live grizzly bear chained up in the backyard. At first she’s scared of the bear but then it seems sad and lonely ‘cause it’s all chained up and whatever, and then cabin fever sets in and she lets the bear loose. Of course, it’s an island, so the bear doesn’t really have anywhere to go. So she keeps feeding it and the bear keeps hanging out and eventually they become pretty chill with each other.

Anyway, as all classic love stories go, one thing leads to another and she tries to have sex with the bear. Y’know, as you do.

Disappointing thing number one: There is only one terrible interspecies sex scene in this book. Dammit, if Marian Engel expects me to invest an afternoon of my life in reading her stupid book, I expect her to deliver with some goddamn bear sex. That’s one of those quotes that someone’s going to read at an awards dinner someday.

There is one bear sex scene in this book and it makes up the final couple pages (one of which is noted on the imgur post.) Basically, the girl presents herself to the bear and the bear is like, “Nah.” Then he mauls her a little. Yes really. Just a little bit though.

Having been mauled, she realizes how stupid she’s being and she drives a boat to the mainland and gets in her car and goes home. That’s the end of the book. So, to recap:

Does she have sex with the bear? No.

Is this book exceptionally fucked up? Not really.

Is it worth reading? No.

Bear is one of those unfortunate pieces of media that even as a comedian is hard to review. If something is great then I can praise it and if something is outright bad then I can insult the ever-loving shit out of it. Unfortunately (and I legitimately mean this) Bear falls into that terrible category of 5/10 books that are neither amazing enough to praise nor bad enough to spend a night insulting. The writing is competent enough that if 1987 was an especially bad year for Canadian fiction then I can understand it receiving some kind of award. The concept is really silly but the execution ends up being really really boring. I kinda wish I had my afternoon back, to be honest. Ho hum.

But don’t worry, the world of terrible erotica only gets more upsetting from here.

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