"The Bear" by Andrew Krivak

The Bear cover
The Bear by Andrew Krivak

I’m not generally a fan of post-apoctalyptic fiction. I enjoyed The Last of Us for the acting and some of the human drama, but it wasn’t really my thing.1 Andrew Krivak’s remarkable novel is different, and I enjoyed it much more. It’s not a fast-paced story, but it’s short, and I tore through it in a day. It’s a truly beautiful novel about a father and daughter who happen to be the last two humans on earth.

We never learn the cause of humanity’s collapse, but the outcome is clear from the book’s opening line. It’s a remarkable combination of low stakes—we know from the beginning that the main characters will be the final humans alive—and high stakes, as whatever they do will be humanity’s final act in the universe.

The last two were a girl and her father who lived along the old eastern range on the side of a mountain they called the mountain that stands alone.

— the opening sentence of "The Bear"

Krivak’s writing is beautiful. The first half of the book is a meditation on the relationship between father and daughter, as well as introduction to the world that exists several generations after the catastrophic collapse of human civilization. The second half of the book is fable that explores the daughter’s struggle for survival and her relationship with the natural world as humanity’s candle dims.

In a strange way, The Bear reminds me of George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides, or perhaps its inverse. Earth Abides examines humanity rebuilding civilization after a disastrous plague. The Bear explores the dwindling of the human species, unable to recover after some unknown disaster. They’re different perspectives on our relationship with nature after the collapse of society. Krivak’s writing is more lyrical and more elegant, and somehow he creates a thoughtful and emotional picutre of the twilight of the human race without making it maudlin, depressing, or sentimental. I was touched by the depth of emotion and the beauty of the land. This is a book I’ll be thinking about for quite some time.

  1. Add zombies to an apocalypse, and chances are even lower I’ll be interested. Yes, I’ve heard the people who say that The Last of Us isn’t really about zombies. Those people are wrong. I don’t care how much you dress it up in pseudoscience: anyone with an insatiable taste for human flesh who, upon biting another person, turns that person into a similar flesh-hungry monster is a zombie. Maybe The Last of Us put a little more effort into it than, say, I Am Legend, but they’re still zombies. ↩︎