My Semi-Fictional Life #97 (A Review for SETTING FREE THE BEARS, by John Irving)

Hello peeps. Today I have a review for my first read of the year.

A Review of Setting Free the Bears, by John Irving

Book #1 in my John Irving Challenge (2017), wherein I will attempt to read all of John Irving’s novels in order of publication within one year.

I think this sums up my experience with this novel nicely: A character dies on page 90 and I did not realize he was dead until page 212.

Suffice it to say, I did not enjoy reading this book. I dug the first 90 pages, with their wacky happenstance and quirky characters, but after that, everything went to shit. The narrative becomes disjointed and a cogent story devolves into part history lesson, part study in tedium. I never did come to give a single shit about Siggy. Graff was an okay dude, but Siggy was annoying. The middle hundred pages are pure torture to get through. At times, it took me an hour to read only twenty pages because I just didn’t give a shit.

The ending was fun in a chaotic way, but I do wonder how people who read this when it first came out felt, what with them not having the internet to look up all these animals Irving names. I say “names” because he only names them. One or two he might give a broader description, but I, for one, had no idea what an aoudad, anoa and addax were, nor did I have a fucking clue what a gerenuk, gemsbok, or gaur were. He goes on to describe a gaur as one of the tallest oxen in the world, but what the holy fuck are the other five he listed? Yes, person reading this review, I can very well hop over to Google and search for these things, and I did do just that. But how the hell did readers in 1968 do it? You’d have to be one of those rich kids with a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica to know what all he’s talking about. Or you can just imagine a zoo full of rampaging animals, I guess. Whatever. It got on my nerves, having to stop reading in order to Google animals so I knew what he was talking about. What made it even more annoying was having to stop reading IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ACTION so I could clearly picture this crazy cast of animals.

I’m glad I know Irving gets better over the course of his career. Because, had I first read this book in 1968, I likely never would have read this author again.

In summation: Nowadays, every debut novel that comes out has someone barking “ERMAGERD I CAN’T BEREAVE DIS A FURST NOVELS!!!” Well, this is one of the rare first novels that feels like a first novel. Only recommended for Irving completionists.

Final Judgment: Requires a masters degree in biology or complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica to fully enjoy.

See you tomorrow,


Pic of the Day



3 thoughts on “My Semi-Fictional Life #97 (A Review for SETTING FREE THE BEARS, by John Irving)

      1. I might skip the early stuff, then. I still have so many later Irving novels to enjoy. I cannot wait for you to reach A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY. At the risk of hyping it up too much, I really fucking loved that one. I would dare say it changed my life… it, at least, changed my perspective on some things. 🙂

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