Cover image for Bear v. shark : the novel
Bear v. shark : the novel
Bachelder, Chris.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Scribner, [2001]

Physical Description:
251 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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So it's kind of like a parlor game, then'... The question is apparently of Ancient Eastern extraction.... It seems to be a gut thing. The answer just feels right and then you come up with reasons.... Given a relatively level playing field -- i.e., water deep enough so that a Shark could maneuver proficiently, but shallow enough so that a Bear could stand and operate with its characteristic dexterity -- who would win in a fight between a Bear and a Shark? In this brilliant satire of our media-saturated culture, the sovereign nation of Las Vegas -- the entertainment capital of the world -- is host to Bear v. Shark II. After a disappointing loss in the first matchup between the land and the sea, the bear is back with a vengeance and out for blood. All of America is obsessed with the upcoming spectacle, so tickets are hard to come by. With an essay entitled "Bear v. Shark: A Reason to Live," young Curtis Norman wins a national writing contest and four tickets to the event. The Normans load up their SUV and embark on a road trip to Vegas. As they head cross-country, the family is besieged by a dizzying barrage of voices: television and radio personalities, public service announcements, bear and shark pundits, Freudians, theologians, and self-published authors, in addition to the Bear v. Shark fanatics, cultists, and resisters they meet at roadside gas stations and restaurants. Overwhelmed by factoids, statistics, and ten-second debates, the Normans -- along with the rest of country -- can't seem to get their facts straight, much less figure out a way to actually communicate with one another. Sound bites and verbal tics predominate; misheard, misunderstood, and just plain mistaken information is absorbed, mangled, and regurgitated to hilarious effect; and the most inane subjects -- from the disappearance of Dutch culture to the Shakespearean bias toward the bear -- are vigorously and obsessively debated. These meaningless exchanges of misinformation leave Mr. Norman disenchanted, world-weary, and ambivalent about the impending show, but the family eventually makes it to Vegas for an apocalyptic and surprisingly emotional ending. Written in quick, commercial-like segments that mirror the media it satirizes, Chris Bachelder's debut is a fiercely funny, razor-sharp novel about the odd intersection of zealotry and trivia, about the barriers to human connection in a society that values entertainment above all else. Through a clever act of novelistic subterfuge, Bachelder makes us laugh at our penchant for absurd and useless information while drawing us into a dazzling spectacle of his own imagination.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

It's the near future (we still have SUVs, but now our TVs don't have "off" buttons), and the U.S. is obsessed by one question: given a water level that would allow a shark to swim without keeping a bear from deft maneuvering, which one would win if they had a fight--the bear or the shark? The answer lies in the sovereign nation of Las Vegas, where bear and shark will go fin to paw in a computer-animated--it's "realer than real" --rematch (the shark won the first time around). The story--written in short episodic chapters that are sometimes transcripts of commercials, including one for the world's best "ursine porn" Web site--follows young Curtis Norman, who won tickets for his family with his essay "Bear v. Shark: A Reason to Live." The short chapters keep the pace quick and the book funny, and the attacks on technophilic America will appeal to fans of Chuck Palahniuk and Mark Leyner. In the end, though, this first novel is eerily similar to the cultural phenomena it so relentlessly satirizes: hugely entertaining but not particularly deep. --John Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

Reading like Don DeLillo on acid, Bachelder's brilliant, bizarre debut is a futuristic one-joke novel about a whimsical confrontation between two unlikely predators. The premise is simple: "Bear v. Shark" is a monster pay-per-view event staged in Las Vegas in which a bear and a shark fight it out in a tank of water deep enough for the shark to maneuver efficiently, but shallow enough to give the bear an even chance to hold its own. Most of the novel consists of Bachelder examining the event via an acidic, over-the-top running commentary and skewering American culture and the consumer-driven media overload that dominates modern life. The plot, such as it is, covers the cross-country journey of the Normans, a numbed-out, statistically average family who acquire tickets to the show when one of the two sons wins a promotional essay contest about the significance of the event. The story line has some mildly entertaining moments like Bachelder's depiction of Mr. Norman's growing existential ennui as he rounds the bend into a midlife dominated by the advertising-driven acquisition of contemporary gadgets and possessions. What makes the novel work, though, is the author's thought-provoking commentary, alternately hysterical, penetrating and weird, as he discusses weather channels, breakfast cereals, ESP TV and some of the other flotsam and jetsam that appears over the airwaves. Bachelder paints himself into a corner with an anticlimactic ending that hinges on the outcome of the battle, and the paper-thin plot doesn't hold up. But there's plenty of meat in the satiric humor and over-the-top commentary, making this a wildly entertaining cultural roller-coaster ride. Agent, Lisa Bankoff. (Nov.) Forecast: Reviewers will relish this novel, and if they do a good job getting a buzz started, it should do reasonably well, though a flashier jacket might have helped sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Bear v. Shark: The Preface Bear v. Shark: The Novel is based on a true story. Or, rather: It is based on a true story. Imagine a true story. Imagine this true story in a solid, middle-class neighborhood, modest and truthful. Imagine its joists, its beams, the steady, cautious slope of its shingled roof. Imagine its crisp, righteous corners, those near-perfect 90-degree angles, knowing as you do that a perfect 90-degree angle -- like a perfect circle or a perfect butt -- doesn't really exist in the Real World, but knowing that these angles have aspired to perfection, nonetheless (or else what's a heaven for?). Imagine the clean closets, the sensible floor plan, the utter lack of luxury or flourish. Imagine that the materials are first-rate, chosen and guaranteed by men who care about doing a job right dammit. Imagine that everything checks out, yes the basement is unfinished and dank, but it's the truth, take it or leave it. Good. Now, imagine, based atop this monument to forthrightness and plain dealing, imagine a ramshackle unit constructed willy-nilly, catch-as-catch-can, higgledy-piggledy, all pastiched together with hyphens and the thin, colorful threads of ideas, a motley edifice, part bungalow, part high-rise, part rambler, there's stucco and brick and wood and vinyl siding, not unplanned, not unplanned, charming or interesting being the absolute best way to describe this place if you're standing on the bushwhacked front lawn of Truth, not unstable in its own right but perched upon, based on, the cautious, steady slope of the shingled roof of Truth and teetering, teetering, the whole damn situation fixing to collapse into tainted wreckage, in which wreckage lie nearly equal parts Truth and Lie, Irony and That Which Is Not Irony, such that context and purity are forever lost, and the pieces are indistinguishable. How shall I regard that naily 2 by 4? Is it a metaplank, a superplank, a plank self-referential? A complex and ambiguous plank, and all the more so for its apparent simplicity, its garish honesty regarding its own dimensions? Has anyone even bothered to measure the 2 by 4? In short: Is this a postmodern stick? Say, are we to look through or at that cracked window? Linoleum: Authenticity or the death of authenticity? Imagine that. Copyright © 2001 by Chris Bachelder Excerpted from Bear vs. Shark by Chris Bachelder All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.