Today I share the review of the new book by I writer whose books I’ve had the pleasure to read before, and this time I’m reviewing her new novel on behalf of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, remember to check here if you are looking for reviews).
Bear Medicine: A Novel by G. Elizabeth Kretchmer
When Brooke sets off on a trail in Yellowstone National Park to train for an upcoming marathon, she is savagely attacked by a grizzly bear. One hundred forty years earlier, Anne accompanies her husband on a camping trip in the nation’s first national park and awakens one morning to find he’s been captured by Nez Perce warriors. Both women encounter a sacred but savage landscape. Both fall under the care of American Indian women. Ultimately, Brooke and Anne must each overcome multiple obstacles, with the help of their new friends and native lore, to find what she seeks.
Alternating between contemporary and historical times, Bear Medicine is a story about women helping women in a complicated, male-dominated world.
About the author
Elizabeth Kretchmer grew up on the south side of Chicago in a family that revered the annual summer vacation. Her favorite trips were always to the Great American West, where raptors soared and mountains loomed and evergreens towered overhead, and where history and adventure and spirituality seemed somehow inextricably and inexplicably linked to the landscape. By the time she was in her mid-twenties, she found a permanent ticket to the West and has lived there ever since.
Although Ms. Kretchmer earned her undergraduate degree with her left brain and worked in finance and accounting for the first phase of her adult life, she never felt she was in the right place. After retiring from the business world, ostensibly to raise her three sons, she earned an MFA in Writing from Pacific University and began to raise a cast of fictional characters alongside her real children. She is now a full-time writer of novels, short stories, creative nonfiction, and occasional freelance work. Her debut novel, The Damnable Legacy , came out Summer 2014, and was republished by Booktrope Summer 2015. Her short work can be found in The New York Times, High Desert Journal, Silk Road Review, and numerous other publications.
When Ms. Kretchmer isn’t writing, she’s teaching therapeutic and wellness writing workshops and helping others learn about the transformative power of the written word. For additional information, visit her website and blog at www.gekretchmer.com.
I have read two of Elizabeth Kretchmer’s books before. The Damnable Legacy (you can check my review here) and Women on the Brink (check the review here) and enjoyed them. When I was informed that the author had published a new book, I had to check it out.
Once again, Kretchmer focuses on issues that relate to women’s lives and also to the environment and to human beings’ place in the world. The story is narrated by two women, Brooke and Anne, in the first-person. Although both women have a lot in common (both are married and not terribly happy in their marriages, although they are not fully aware of it or at least they haven’t acknowledged it to themselves yet, and they both love nature), they are separated by a hundred and forty years. Whilst Brooke lives in our present, Anne convinces her husband to visit Yellowstone not long after the Park is established, seriously underestimating the risks. Both women suffer because of their decisions (Brooke is mauled by a grizzly bear and is seriously injured, and Anne ends up alone and defenseless without experience on surviving in the wild) and are helped by other women. And in both cases, these seemingly terrible decisions end up totally changing their lives. The book is part contemporary women’s fiction and part historical fiction, and an inspirational read.
Both characters are sympathetic because of the terrible circumstances they find themselves in, although they are not the standard heroines that suddenly and almost magically become enlightened and proficient at everything. They sometimes show little insight into their real situations, can be naïve, do little to help themselves, moan, and take one step forward and two steps back. If anything, Anne, who married young and has little experience of the world, seems to take to the new situation and accept Meg’s teachings more easily, although it must have been a bigger shock to her and farther away from her everyday experience. The society of her time was also more prejudiced, and the fact that she becomes best friends with a Native American woman is much more of a leap of faith than Brooke’s friendship with Laila and her confused feelings about the younger woman. But Brooke has also been victimised (even though it takes her quite a while to accept that) for much longer, has two grown-up children, and therefore has much more to lose. It is understandable that she struggles more and it takes her longer to fully embrace her new reality. I think most women will recognize themselves in one of the characters, either the narrators or their friends and helpers, and feel personally involved in the novel.
The writing is beautifully descriptive and there are very touching moments, some because of the extremes of emotion and suffering, and some because of the moments of clarity and insight that the love of the women and their cooperation with each other brings them. The author has done her research (she explains her process at the end and also acknowledges her sources) and I learned much about the birth of Yellowstone and the Indian Wars by reading this book.
There are serious and current subjects discussed in the novel (abuse [mental, physical, and sexual], rape, drug abuse, mental illness, nature and environment, the protection of wild animals, politics, parent-child relationship), there are adventures and risky situations, secrets, betrayal, and plenty of love. Although most readers will figure out soon enough the connection between the two women, we care enough for both characters and their adventures to keep reading and hoping we will be right about the end. And yes, the ending is empowering and positive too.
An emotional book (yes, I did cry), an enlightened book, and also a realistic book, that shows us some women who are not the perfect heroines, all powerful and knowing, but who make mistakes, hesitate, don’t know what to do for the best, and can be annoying and irritating at times, but who become stronger and learn about themselves by joining with other women and choosing to work together.
An inspiring read and a book that I recommend to women (and men) who enjoy multi-dimensional characters. It will also delight people who love historical fiction, in particular, the Indian Wars, and readers interested in Native American tradition and mythology. Another great book by a writer I will keep my eye on.
Thanks so much to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author for her novel and thanks to all of you for reading. Remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!