Barbara Corcoran Patti Hagan - Essay

Patti Hagan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The real Horribilis in the world of Ursus Horribilis is man, and The Man in ["The Young Grizzly"] is loaded with mean intentions, double negatives, ain't-punctured bad grammar: "you don't know nothing," "where's them Grizzlies?" The Man's son is always jostling his shooting arm just as he's about to bring down a bear. And when boy meets bear, boy launches into the sort of soliloquy calculated to warm the cockles of the average grizzly: "I don't mean you no harm, bear. I don't like killing things … I like you, bear- … Why don't you just skedaddle out of here now … If you kill me bear, you got to do it face to face." Another kind of man, wears a green ranger uniform and speaks Good English…. Beyond this, the reader should be on guard against a certain overbearish sexism. Right from the start: "the female cub bawled and tried to bury her head in her mother's thick fur. She was alarmed by the outside world. The male was frightened too, but he was also very curious. He let go of his mother …" When he finally stands his ground against an older male, the explanation is that "the silvertip's mother had been a dominant, aggressive bear, and he had learned to imitate her." Not so his sister.

Still, "The Young Grizzly" is a fine adventure story, giving a good accounting of mountain plants and animals and only somewhat flawed by a trillium blooming in late August (bloom-frame March-June) and a shock of an ending in which the bad man commits suicide by leaping off the trail when he is trapped between two grizzlies. Lex talionis.

Patti Hagan, "Flukes, Feathers and Fur," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 3, 1974, p. 46.