Based on a true story, a couple are camping in Algonquin park when they are attacked and partially eaten by a bear. In this fiction, the author adds the kids who witness the attack, albeit from the inside of a giant Coleman cooler, and then have to survive alone in the wilderness. The story is narrated by the little girl who is now in sole charge of her younger brother. In order to make him obey her, she sometimes resorts to a game where he is the dog and she is the master, “Sit and stay, Alex.” And the bear is a ‘big black dog’ to the children. When Anna lashes out at her brother in grief and then feels guilt about it she says, “I am different because the black dog is inside.”
This is the kind of story we read in the paper and want to know every detail about so that we can reassure ourselves that it won’t happen to us. But this couple had done everything right – they were on an island where bears rarely appear, their food was properly stowed, and worst of all, five days later when they were discovered, there was a package of untouched hamburger sitting out even as the bear was still guarding their remains. This was not about the food. Tragedies we cannot predict or explain do happen and we must wrestle with those ‘black dogs’ in our lives.
The book is written in a child’s voice which is believable but might be tiresome for some. It was not done as skillfully as Emma Donaghue’s Room to which this book will inevitably be compared. She might have alternated the child’s voice with another narrative which would have given a bit of a break.
Algonquin park is one of my favourite places and this story will not diminish my love for it. We all have our own bear stories to share and we all have our black dogs inside of us, no matter where we are.