“Morning of the fourth day. This place is cold, damp, smelly and utterly inconvenient. Stuck under a car, bear ate my feet, wife treacherous, bugs biting, hip wound seeping, blah blah blah. I’m not a complainer, so enough about all that.“
HELP! A Bear is Eating Me, by Mykle Hansen, is not a book with much room for subtleties. It is a megaphone with the volume turned to 11. The narrator, Marv Pushkin, is not a man of subtleties. He is the epitome of ugly American corporate culture, driven entirely by naked greed and ambition. He is a vain, boorish, misogynistic, racist, Ted Nugent-loving misanthrope.
Marv takes Image Team – his department at an insidious PR firm that represents clients such as a company that makes face-melting beef sticks – bear hunting in Alaska on a team building exercise. Needless to say, things don’t go as intended.
The book begins with Marv pinned under his (much beloved) Range Rover and in the process of being eaten by a bear. The story of how he came to be in this situation, and how he came to be the man he is, unfolds in Proustian fashion as Marv, inured to pain by a smorgasbord of medication, recalls his past in between fits of monological ranting berating those he blames for his situation, which is anyone and everyone, including the reader.
For Marv, other people exist for two things: to be used to his benefit and then discarded. He married his wife for her money, he tortures his subordinates for his own professional gain, and he sexually humiliates his mistress. The only relationship that exhibits any growth in the book is that between Marv and the bear – as he calls him, Mister Bear. When Mister Bear fights off another, larger bear that comes to feast on Marv, he cheers on Mister Bear:
Did you see my bear kick that other bear’s ass? That other bear that was twice my bear’s size? My bear is awesome. Mister Bear, you’re a madman! You’re a monster! You saved my snacks! You’re my hero! Mister Bear, do you want a beer?
The admiration of Mister Bear eventually morphs, as Marv continues to lose touch with reality, into a strange mixture of sexuality and identification, as Marv’s masturbatory fantasy twists his mistress into increasingly bear like shapes and an extended dream sequence has Marv himself twisting into a bear, beginning with his lost bear-eaten legs growing into paws.
We are given over to the gleeful torture of Marv over the course of HELP!, and the overriding question is how much torture we are willing to condone upon a person that represents the worst of society and humanity. The concept, however, begins to wear through when we are inevitably given the soft underbelly of Marv’s abominable hide, his traumatic childhood, his mental instability. It’s inevitable to arrive at this point, from a narrative perspective, but humanity suits Marv poorly, and shaming the reader for complicity in his suffering feels like a bit of a cheat.
The final turn of the book betrays the rudderless direction of the narrative, and reduces Marv to a punchline. Ultimately, the book lacks the courage of it’s narrator’s convictions in its unwillingness to surrender Marv either to his inhumanity or his gruesome fate.
Check out HELP! A Bear is Eating Me on Amazon.