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Bear v. Shark

Bear v. Shark

4.0 2
by Chris Bachelder

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Satire about a culture so hooked on television and the Internet that two computer-generated animals become a national obsession. Suppose a bear and a shark were pitted against each other in a tank of water just full enough so that the shark could swim but the bear wouldn't drown. Which one would win? Well, the answer is to be found out in a staged fight between a virtual bear and a virtual shark in-where else?-Las Vegas. The main character of Bachelder's debut, a Homer-Simpson-like Mr. Norman, is driving his wife and two children across the country for ringside seats. The reader, going along for the ride, experiences the media frenzy surrounding the fake scenario and also Mr. Norman's occasional philosophic questioning of it. Norman, who feels empty and lonely, sometimes wonders whether he shouldn't connect more with his wife and children than he does with the thousands of TV screens and other entertainment distractions that surround him. Approaches by anti-media rebels who plan to blow up the Bear v. Shark stadium serve to heighten his discontent. "Things could be different," they keep telling him. But Norman is lulled back into brainwashed compliance by a talking neck pillow that whispers into his ear like a kind of electronic antidepressant designed to make him conform. Will he sell his family's soul and drive all the way to Vegas for this brainless entertainment, or will he see the light? That's the driving-pun intended-question behind Bachelder's admittedly weakly plotted tale. But the author uses his enjoyably silly scenario as a springboard to parody spectacles of the kind our entertainment-engorged culture has become enthralled by-Survivor, Temptation Island, Monica and Chandra.With its short vignettes, amusing use of language, cartoonish people, science-fiction bent, and its cynicism, the whole is like a slightly less developed preincarnation of Kurt Vonnegut. A quirky first novel, fun especially for wordplay fans.
From the Publisher
The New York Times Book Review A roundhouse swing at pop culture and its slavish devotion to spectacle.

Mark Rozzo Los Angeles Times Bedazzling and bewildering...as jarring and addictive as cruising through a hundred channels of cable with the remote on autopilot.

Carmela Ciuraru Newsday Bachelder's mind is...imaginative, playful, and relentlessly agile.

Panio Gianopoulos The Hartford Courant Bear v. Shark is great fun, and heralds the arrival of a gifted satirist, that nearly extinct breed of American writer.

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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.


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

Chapter 1: Parlor Game

So it's kind of like a parlor game, then? In essence?

I guess so.

Well that sounds fun. Bear against Shark.

It's Bear v. Shark. What's a parlor?

Oh...You know, a parlor. A parlour.


Um, like a salon.


A lounge, essentially.

A lounge game?

Well, you know, it's like where you play it.

What's a parlor?

Like a living room. Technically.



In a building?

In a home.

How big a TV you put in there?

Copyright © 2001 by Chris Bachelder

Chapter 2: Whiteout

The Television, the couch, the main character (Mr. Norman) asleep, twitching in the strobe glow.

The Television says don't you go away, we'll be right back.

Mr. Norman is all twitch and mutter. He doesn't go away.

There's American-style shag carpet and there's wood paneling wallpaper, I couldn't tell the difference, you fooled me, where's the seam?

It's morning, rise and shine.

And then from dreams grainy and edge-blurry, cold-sizzling with synaptic crack and static, Mr. Norman opens his eyes into the titillating snow-white throb of a cordless vibrating pillow, the Vibra-Dream Plus, not available in stores, order today.

This blindingly white pillow, for which operators are standing by, cradles Mr. Norman's face and curves seductively, ergonomically, up to his ears, into which it purrs and coos like a lover.

The pillow-lover says, "Three easy payments."

She says, "For a limited time only, void where prohibited, ergonomically designed."

She says, "Check the cordless pillow aisle at your local grocer."

On Television it's the same thing.

Ergonomically: from the Latin ergo (therefore) and the French nom (name).

Into the soft white fleece of his virgin lover Mr. Norman says, "Therefore name?"

She (the pillow) doesn't care whether Mr. Norman used Visa or MasterCard, or whether he ordered by toll-free number or via the Internet or even through the painfully and deliciously slow U.S. Postal Service. She (the pillow) just wants Mr. Norman to rest easy after a long day at the office. She understands. She cares. She grazes his earlobes when she speaks.

With her thrumming tongue, her tingling lips, the pillow-lover says, "Therefore name." It makes sense.

Her design? Well, her design combines Old World Comfort with Space Age Materials. She is the official cordless pillow of Bear v. Shark II.

Mr. Norman's neck hurts, but she (the revolutionary pillow of tomorrow) says, "You be still, big boy."

She says, "Stain resistant, lab tested, stylish durability."

Mr. Norman, penis erect and warranty expired, remains facedown on the couch in the big Television room of his suburban home, his eyes squinting into a whiteout of sexy sleep technology, a hot blizzard of affordable comfort and Yankee can-do know-how.

In a manner of speaking: Mr. Norman wakes up.

Copyright © 2001 by Chris Bachelder

Chapter 3: Ohms and Amperes

A wife (Mrs. Norman) and two boys all asleep upstairs.

We got ourselves a quiet house. This suburban house is completely and blessedly silent.

One thinks of wind-kissed meadows. One thinks of bomb shelters.

The house is completely silent, except only for those trifling noises against which we recognize and understand the very idea of silence, the rustle and pulse that we might say define silence, yes, bring it into existence and lock it into a paired opposition that confers meaning and context.

The silent house: silent, that is, except for the chemical hum of the central air-conditioning, except for the hiss of dehumidifiers, except for the Babelic chatter of Televisions.

Silent but for the synthetic pulse of coaxial cables, converters, underground fiber-optic lines. The crackle and pop of electricity, currency, frequency -- the ohms and amperes, watts and volts.

All silent except for the thud of the Land Swaps & Divorces against vinyl siding, except for the clicking of the hard drive, the murmuring of Web site authors -- Charles Lindbergh deniers, child pornographers, auctioneers, insomniacs, quilters, Captains of Industry, professors of Canadian Literature.

Except for the gunshots, the sirens, the gunshots, the choppers.

Except for bear banter, shark schlock.

Except for the inexorable grind of continental plates miles below the earth's surface.


Silent except for the utopian drone of the Vibra-Dream Plus and the sweet, sweet morning songs of electric birds installed in the imitation dogwoods in the backyard of Mr. Norman's suburban cable-ready home.

Fax, scanner, cell phone.

You shoot a bear so many times and it still doesn't die.

The house is completely silent when Mr. Norman awakes.

Copyright © 2001 by Chris Bachelder

Meet the Author

Chris Bachelder is an Alumni Graduate Fellow in the M.F.A. program at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Bear v. Shark is his first novel.

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Bear v. Shark 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very funny book, becomes more accurate every day.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a short book and well worth the read, that is if you can stand a seemingly random jumping plot. It keeps you fascinated although it runs slow and leaves you dry near the end.