The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

These stories, which appeared originally in such magazines as FIELD & STREAM and OUTDOOR LIVING, have a droll originality that will appeal even to those who are blissfully unaware of the joys of boating and camping. In the storytelling tradition of such writers as Garrison Keillor and Mark Twain, Patrick McManus is able to create characters and situations that are as familiar as the family next door. The best stories in this collection focus on experiences from McManus’ childhood. The opening story, “Sequences,” shows the young McManus patiently explaining to his citified stepfather, Hank, the importance of approaching farm work by determining the sequence of activities necessary to begin a job--and then deciding to go fishing instead. In “Kid Brothers and Their Practical Application,” McManus bemoans his lack of a younger brother and recalls the experiences of his friend Retch Sweeney and his kid brothers Erful and Verman. According to McManus, “As a kid brother, Erful seemed just about perfect to me, but Retch regarded him as a large fat tick embedded in his life,” a sentiment undoubtedly echoed by older brothers of the 1990’s.

The title story also revolves around an incident from McManus’ childhood--a camping trip with his best friend Eddie Muldoon and his family, including Eddie’s grandmother, Goombaw. Goombaw’s fear of bears and McManus’ fitful sleep while wrapped in a makeshift fur coat/sleeping bag combine to produce a hilarious comedy of errors. In all of these stories, McManus adopts a broad and exaggerated comic attitude, but always one that pokes as much fun at the narrator as at the other characters.