Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The author’s skilled use of first-person narration not only provides the semblance of an eyewitness account but also supplies the story with an important character who participates in the action of the plot. On separate levels, the narrator is both a representative voice for the “bear” community and an individual with his own personal insight into Victor’s fate. There are times, characterized by the plural pronoun “we,” when the narrator defines and defends the bear way of life; there are other moments, identified by the singular “I,” when the narrator grapples with his personal memories of Victor, such as their one-night stand and his voluntary effort to sort through Victor’s things after his death.

Both voices, however, are marked at times by an almost comic detachment. There is, for example, the narrator’s reference to the wake as a kind of “picnic,” an allusion to the popular children’s song “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” by John Bratton and James Kennedy. This particular “funeral feast” is anything but idyllic, however, since it ends in a bonfire, an attempted obliteration of Victor’s memory.

The story abounds in such allusions to pop culture. The narrator, for instance, speaks of bear couples that consist of an older man and a younger man, “Daddy Bear and Baby Bear,” a configuration that results, he says, perhaps from a wishful “filtering out” of the “female elements” of the fairy tale “Goldilocks.” “What they are left with,” the narrator asserts, “is a fuzzy fable of furry sleepers, of rumpled beds and porridge.”

Shortly before he makes up his mind to end it all, Victor is also said to be obsessed with the popular song “The Living Years” recorded by Mike and the Mechanics in 1985. Presumably Victor hears and absorbs only the song’s more negative message about a son’s failing to communicate on a meaningful level with his father while he is still alive, and he ignores more hopeful aspects of the lyrics about holding on and waiting for the next day to bring a new perspective. To Victor, the next day never seemed to bring a change, only more of the same, more reminders of what he saw as his failed life.