Jaffrey author Andrew Krivak speaks on themes and inspirations for novel “The Bear”


Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 09-12-2023 7:20 PM

Author Andrew Krivak conceived of his novel “The Bear” while at his part-time home in Jaffrey.

He wanted to write a novel that had nature as the main protagonist, and Mount Monadnock became an inspiration for the setting in the shadow of a lone mountain.

“The Bear” has been selected for the statewide New Hampshire’s Big Read program, through New Hampshire Humanities. The organization was one of 62 nationwide selected to receive a National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant, totaling $20,000. In partnership with the Center for the Book at the New Hampshire State Library, the State Council for the Arts, New Hampshire Public Radio and the state Department of Correction-Family Connections Center, about 50 statewide libraries and organizations, including the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center and Gibson’s Bookstore, will be reading the book and holding events.

The goal of the program is to broaden readers’ understanding of the world and their communities, as well as themselves, through the experience of reading together.

“The Bear” is a post-apocalyptic tale of the last people on Earth, and their connection to each other and the natural world around them. Krivak, who splits his time between homes in Somerville, Mass., and Jaffrey, said his initial inspiration for the novel came while he was at his Jaffrey home. He said it started with the concept of solitude.

“I was out fishing one day, very early in the morning, and it was just so beautiful,” Krivak said. “I was really all by myself. I wondered what it was like for the first people to be there.”

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Then, he said, his next thought was what it would be like for the last people. Struck by the inspiration, Krivak rowed to shore, sat down and began the novel.

Krivak, who has a degree from St. John’s College and a MFA in poetry from Columbia University, said he began his writing career with poetry – poetry also sometimes inspired by his view of Mount Monadnock. One of his collections, “Ghosts of the Monadnock Wolves,” takes its title from the story of the burning of the top of Mount Monadnock to drive off wolf packs that lived there during the early settling of the region.

“I think it’s fair to say poetry was my first love, though I love all writing,” Krivak said. “Poetry was the first place I wanted to do the work of writing.”

But, Krivak said he found poetry a difficult field to get into.

“I didn’t really find a home there,” Krivak said. “When I started writing prose, it just worked better for me.”

Besides “The Bear,” Krivak also has a series of three novels – “The Sojourn,” “The Signal Flame” and his most recent book, “Like the Appearance of Horses” from May of this year – all following a single family, starting with a fictional story with inspirational roots in Krivak’s grandfather’s World War I experiences. While all three novels are connected, each is a stand-alone story, Krivak said. “The Bear,” published in 2020, is his first novel outside of that connected trilogy.

“I wanted to see if I could write a novel in which nature was the protagonist, not a human,” Krivak said.

The setting for “The Bear” includes a mountain, which Krivak said becomes a place of rest for a father and daughter, the last two humans alive on the planet. While the setting is not explicitly stated in the book, the characters call the mountain “the mountain that stands alone” – which is a translation of the Abenaki word “Monadnock.” The characters pick local fruits, catch rabbits, make snowshoes from ash trees, and fish for trout and perch, and the flora and fauna of New England are present on each page.

“It’s what I have around me. I don’t live in the Rockies, I don’t live in the Smokies, I live here. And so, I imagined if the last two people lived here, this is the land they would live on. They would eat the blueberries, split the beech logs, hear the loons,” Krivak said.

The early parts of the novel often focus on day-to-day living and survival. Though they are the last humans left, there is still life to get on with, Krivak said – the “everyday work of teaching, of living, of surviving – and also of caring. Ultimately, it’s just a form of caring. They care for each other right up to the end.”

According to Krivak, the story is also about connection, something he said the stripped-back nature of the narrative allows the characters to experience in a way modern people rarely get to.

“There is very much a wall between humans and nature. There are people who are really good at being in nature, people who aren’t very good. But ultimately there’s a separation. Humans, we are in our own world, figuratively and literally. So when the girl is the last person left on earth, that veil lifts, and she has the capacity to understand nature on a much deeper level,” Krivak said.

The Big Read will feature book discussions and programs in libraries in all 10 counties across the state, with financial support from New Hampshire Humanities.

Saturday, Sept. 23

“Big Read: A Year Under the Stars Planetarium Show” will be held at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the 6:15 show. The night will feature a planetarium show that depicts the stars, moon phases and seasonal constellations described in The Bear, along with a special encore presentation by Ben Kilham, the founder and bear caregiver at the Kilham Bear Center. The event is free and open to the public but pre-registration through NH Humanities is strongly recommended.

Saturday, Oct. 14

How do stories shape our past, present, and future? Krivak will take up this question when he discusses writing The Bear. Join the discussion at 1 p.m. for a public reception featuring an author meet-and-greet and light snacks. The program will begin at 2 and will be followed by a book signing. This event is free and open to the public but pre-registration through NH Humanities is strongly recommended.