Dispatches | July 08, 2008

If you’re a skeptic in need of a reason to pick up our summer issue – and why not a subscription, while you’re at it? – trust me when I say just one word: “Bearskin.”

James A. McLaughlin’s novella is, simply put, a great story. A great, naturalistic, suspenseful story, complete with bees, a wizened mushroom hunter, vultures circling overhead, ATVs, guns held on hips, Forest Service employees running drugs and, of course, bears.

Not only is “Bearskin” a great story; it’s great in the most delightful way: it is less an intellectual exercise than a sensory experience. This is not to say it’s not a smart story, because it most definitely is. But here the intelligence does not flaunt itself metafictionally, instead manifesting in the traditional elements of plot, characterization and vivid description of setting.

The latter is my favorite aspect and is especially well-rendered, engaging all the senses, sometimes in a single sentence. I found myself completely immersed in the muggy Virginia heat in which the protagonist toils as a caretaker for a private nature preserve. What a great summer read! Near the air conditioner, I got all the feeling of the season without the pesky heat rash and bee stings.

Pick up a copy of TMR and let us know what you think about “Bearskin.” I’ll eat my Mac if you don’t like it. Seriously.

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