The main character of The Heavy Bear (Wolsak & Wynn) by award winning novelist and poet Tim Bowling is a man named Tim Bowling.
And that's far from the strangest detail in this rollicking, moving, unexpected story of a father and teacher who leaves his ordinary life behind to journey towards a mysterious fate with a ghost and a spirit as his companions.
So what is the oddest detail from the spread of deliciously odd details in The Heavy Bear? Is it the presence of Buston Keaton's ghost? The bear-shaped spirit of American poet Delmore Schwartz offering useful advice? Or the plot involving a liberated capuchin monkey? The answer is that every one of the strange and surreal details in this wildly creative novel (called "a zany Joycean journey" by Publisher's Weekly) are pitch-perfect and meant to be savoured.
We're thrilled to share an excerpt of The Heavy Bear with you exclusively on Open Book, courtesy of Wolsak & Wynn.
Excerpt: The Heavy Bear by Tim Bowling
I sensed someone standing beside my bed and flung the sheets back. But no menacing figure, knife in hand, loomed over me. At first I saw only the empty darkness. Then the walls and the dresser emerged from the murk, and I was peering through an undersea camera at the ruins of the Titanic, the forgotten contours of some vaguely familiar life. I sat bolt upright. The bottom half of a body still hung in the window, as if frozen in ice. I tried to cry out, but the silence, much heavier than any I’d ever known, drowned the words in my throat.
The body slid out into the greater darkness. A low growl accompanied the departure, immediately followed by a powerful, mysterious odour – rank, wild. The kind of smell I hadn’t experienced since my youth on the Fraser River over a Christ’s lifetime ago.
A hatful of moonlight splashed on the hardwood floor, the wild smell faded and I was just a middle-aged father and husband again. I pushed the little button to illuminate my watch-face. One o’clock. Someone – or something – had been in my bedroom in the middle of the night. Why? To steal? I dismissed the idea at once. I didn’t know why, but the intrusion felt more personal than any random act of thievery.
Careful not to disturb my wife, I quickly rose, dressed and, with my pulse still pounding, followed the figure through the open ground-floor window.
All around me the air flowed like fragranced bathwater. The scent of the neighbour’s freshly cut grass filled my nostrils, while the cathedral beams of our block’s towering Dutch elms overwhelmed my eyes. Parked cars formed a resting train below the leafy branches and one porch light along the avenue held a vortex of bugs against the night. Even inner-city neighbourhoods at this hour sometimes possess a deep rural calm. If a pampered house cat had been on the loose, I could have heard its tympanic paw-fall over the flower beds.
Instead, I heard only my own breathing as I hurried across the lawn to the cracked sidewalk. Of course, I expected to see no one – even intruders who linger strangely in open windows don’t hang around to be caught and interrogated. So, the sight of a slight man in baggy trousers, a shirt of moonlight and an old-fashioned hat standing half a block away caught me unawares, to say the least. He seemed oddly familiar, though probably only because he stood no more than five foot five – my late father’s height. Again, for some curious reason, my voice failed, as if I no longer had one. Instead, I waved my arms in
what I intended to be a threatening manner, but the figure, whose face I could not make out, appeared to be waiting for me. As I came within fifty yards, however, the little man vanished. At that point, I took a deep breath and began to orient myself, to be the rational adult of the ultra-rational twenty-first century.
Dreams. Fancies. The phantoms and illusions brought on by stress. The truth was, I had slept fitfully for several weeks, as I generally did in advance of the university year when, as an itinerant lecturer in English, I steeled myself to meet a hundred young people and steer them, often against their will, down the corridors of syntax and through the abundant meadows of metaphor. It was pleasant enough work, but a shy middle-aged man with some talent for language is still a shy middle-aged man, and meeting humans for the shy is the same as it is for a spider or a coyote: a matter of no inconsiderable anxiety. But why cavil? I was a nervous, over-sensitive man who had reached an age of reckoning: I had more time behind me now than ahead, and the future looked increasingly untender, for my own three children and everyone else’s. At almost fifty, I had become both disillusioned and anxious. So it was hardly surprising, then, that I should conjure up phantoms from the tangle of my nerve endings.
Yet, when I reached the end of the block, I already knew that the little man wasn’t gone for good. And when the low growl sounded at my back, and the wild odour – a concoction of woodsmoke and salmon spawn – filled my nostrils as I turned, I understood that my world had shifted, and whether I still inhabited what the media considered reality didn’t much matter.
Apart from appearing as a main character in novels that he has written, Tim Bowling also works in many other genres of literature. His nineteen books have been shortlisted for major national prizes in fiction (the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, for his most recent novel, The Tinsmith, in 2012), nonfiction (the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize) and poetry (the Governor General’s Award and Canadian Authors Association Award), and in 2008 the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded Bowling a fellowship recognizing his entire body of work. His writing has also been nominated twelve times for the Alberta Literary Awards and nine times for the City of Edmonton Book Prize.
For more of Tim Bowling's The Heavy Bear, visit the Wolsak & Wynn website.