Mr. Bear: (Holiday Spectacular Story #14)

As noted here, I’m commenting daily on the WMG Holiday Spectacular—which is a great project that releases a story every day. These might be reviews. Or not. They might be interesting. Or … um … not. They will be fun, though. For me, at least.

Here’s the next story.

“Mr. Bear”
Jessi Hammond

OK. This is going to get a little out there, I’m going to go a little inside baseball so to speak, or at least go into a lot introspective stuff. So let me start with my overall thoughts first and then when I get into writer neep and personal viewpoints you can go on your merry old way if you so desire.

“Mr. Bear” is an extremely effective story.

I read it late yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about it on and off ever since. Part of that is wrapped up in what is going to follow this overview, but I don’t get this excited about analyzing a story unless I find it particularly worthy. Jessi Hammond has written a pair of compelling characters who I was more than willing to follow from the minute the story started until the minute the story ended. The story is set in a modern-day world, and in a small city that I have never been to but now feel like I know. Stakes are high, danger lurks around the corner, and the end is never certain.

I will not mess it up by giving any additional details except to say you should read it.

Well done. Highly recommended.

All right. Now that those essentials are finished, let me open up my admittedly rusty writer toolbox and show you what an idiot I am. In other words, I’m going to wade into genre, specifically romance, and perhaps more specifically dumb men like me and the romance genre.

# # #

Seriously, this is going to get messy pretty soon. No spoilers, but lots of internal dialog on my own views and my own history and how I related to the story. If you’re not into an oldish dude going into self-study, I can save you time and say you should stop now. But this is my blog and I’m going to use it to work out my own weirdnesses.

So, yeah, please acknowledge that you’ve been warned.

# # #

The introduction to this story describes it as romantic suspense, but when I finished reading it, I was a hundred percent certain this was not a romance at all. In fact, I was so sure of this that I came here today with intent to argue with the editor—to make a vigorous defense of this point.

Yes, I was going to say, this is a story of suspense. It is, in fact, a thriller.

Yes, I was ready to note, “Mr. Bear” does feel like a romance—it’s got trappings of one, the swapping points of view and the introspection of two characters growing more deeply aware of each other. And, sure, it’s clear these two characters could well wind up together somewhere further down the timeline, but the story on the page is not in any way about love or romance. The story on the page—which, again, is quite compelling—is about isolation and fear. It is about community and the value of human contact. It is about the strength of a mother’s love for her daughter. It is about guilt and redemption. It’s plot envelops you, and slowly tightens in that delicious way a good thriller does—quickening the pulse at the same time it seems to be meandering along until all of a sudden you’re paging rapidly.

I felt the fragility of Freya’s position pushed against the core of her inner-strength and the gaping cavern of Leif’s wounds laid over the resolute nature of his presence. This is what the story is, I was ready to point out.

But there is no romance here. None at all. Full stop.

So, I came to argue that this story in not a romance. But as I began to write this, I found I couldn’t make that argument properly. I mean, yeah, I’m right about the basics I’ve written. “Mr. Bear” is all of the things I mentioned, and probably more. But it is also 100% a romance. For all my adamant grinchiness about wanting to argue its category into something that was not romance, I keep falling on one single moment at the end of the story—the inclusion of which essentially melts all my arguments, and that I had read even the first time with the full understanding of why it was there.

“Mr. Bear” is a Meet Cute, the story of how these two misfit parts get together to begin with. At least that’s the writer in me analyzing it, and accepting from the distance of some twenty-four hours what I had actually read and intellectually understood the minute that I finished it. In fact, if I’m being honest, my first real reaction was “Oh no! This can’t be the end! Where’s the next chapter?”

I wanted to see these two get together. Yet, I was adamant in my view that this was simply a thriller. And, still, I came to the page this morning fully prepared to argue that “Mr. Bear” is most definitely not a romance.

Why is that?

Unfortunately, I think I know the answer to that question.

To be fair to myself, the first part of the answer is that Jessi Hammond wrote one hell of a thriller. “Mr. Bear” grabs you by the throat and does not let you go. Again, kudos to the writer. And she did a great job of putting me into the characters. I lived and breathed Freya and Leif. I could blame it all on her, I suppose, but I think there’s a lot more here to the way I reacted to this story, and I want to explore those things out in the open.

A few days back, I wrote about the value of being more deeply introduced to the romance genre. In that discussion, I noted that I am a man of a certain age and background.

To add flavor, though, I’ll add that I like to consider myself an enlightened individual.

I actively spend a lot of “down time” searching out perspectives from people of backgrounds different from mine. I want to be an ally. Women’s rights are trans rights are gay rights are equal rights are human rights, and that it’s that. Yet, as I noted, it was still only in the last decade or so that I became open to the charms of the romance genre. Looking back on it, I fully admit that part of the “problem” I had with engaging earlier was tied up in my own view of who I was. I was a man. I did not read romance.

The end.

I had, of course, read things in the past that some people might consider to be romances, or at least were deeply steeped in the genre. But those cases hit other genres such overt blows that I could pretend these stories were not actually romances.

It is with no little embarrassment, to be honest, to say that a retrospective view of myself says that it took me meeting other men who wrote in the romance genre to allow myself to finally sit down and fully engage with the genre. Guys like Michael Kowal and Matt Buchman changed my perspective. And when my perspective changed, the world around me changed. This is a bit of a microcosm for today, right? The world is going through convulsions as people are suddenly being faced with the need to see elements that have been invisible to them before. My framing of the genre sits at the root of prejudice.

This is a hard thing, you know. Real change does not come easy, but real change is important because, for me anyway, only once my worldview began to change could I begin to learn anything.

And I thought I had learned. I thought I had cleared the hurdle of the romance genre, that I had crossed that finish line. Until I read “Mr. Bear,” I thought I had become enlightened enough regarding the romance genre that I could champion such things.

Alas, it turns out, I had not.

Jessie Hammond wrote such a compelling thriller with such a deep sense of masculine redemption that I grabbed onto that hook and ran with it hard. I let myself ignore the entire layer of the story that was the Meet Cute, simply because that was not important (meaning valuable?) to my read.

This was a thriller, by goodness sake. Not a romance.

Except, of course, it is a romance. I just didn’t want to acknowledge it. I had propriety over the story, you see. “Mr. Bear” was mine, all mine! I know what I saw! Don’t tell me this is a romance when it’s most assuredly not that!


Personally, I take some solace in the fact that I did actually see it even as I was reading it, and that it took only a “brief” while to acknowledge what I had actually seen. So, maybe I have actually learned something. Kudos to me.

But that gut reaction also says I’ve got a distance to go before I get to where I’d rather be.

That’s fine, though. Real change is hard, right?

The finish line is always just ahead.

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