Thursday, March 26, 2015

Childhood fears come alive.

The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave

By J. H. Moncrieff

Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd. 

Pub. Date: May 5, 2015

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

J. H. Moncrieff's weird and possibly unintentionally nostalgic novella, The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave took me back to my childhood. We all have childhood fears that haunt us. Some of those fears stay with us even after we develop cognitively past that stage of magical thinking. For me, it was mirrors. I could not get past the strange idea that my image in the mirror wasn't necessarily turning when I turned. How did I really know? Perhaps my mirror image was starring at the back of my head. What else was it capable of doing? Perhaps I was just a weird child but then again...maybe not. I of course outgrew that childhood fear. But sometimes late at night, when I have my back to the mirror, I wonder...

In Moncrieff's scary The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave, 10 year old Josh is given a present by his step-father Michael. It is a teddy bear, Michael's own bear when he was a boy and a bear that doesn't have a very cuddly appearance. Besides the fact that Josh sees himself as too old for a teddy bear, he also distrusts Michael and cannot bring himself to accept him despite his mother's pleas. He quickly discovers he has good reason to suspect his step-father as the bear named Edgar appears to be more than an inanimate stuffed toy.

Moncrieff's little scarefest evokes those memories of childhood horrors. It is something that she has in common with Ray Bradbury, whose stories often touched on that not so pleasant aspect of childhood imagination. But in Josh's world, this is not imagination, Edgar and Michael definitely knows how to hold a grudge and Josh must deal with the fact that no one believes him, not even his mother.

That is the strength of the story. Josh's fears may have a supernatural element but his fears are often that of real children. Becoming accustomed to a new authority member in a family is always hard but when that member is abusive, you have a whole new horror going on. Michael is abusive in a real world sense and that may make this story a little hard for children and teens to deal with. I was not always sure what the audience this piece of fiction was meant for. At times it seem a bit too intense for YA, especially the scenes of abuse. Yet for adults who can relate to the tale, it may also evoke memories. Yet good fiction, especially horror fiction, should evoke memories and move the reader beyond their comfort zones. The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave may very well do that for some readers.

But once that is said, it is a scary and entertaining story that delivers on the thrills. Josh is believable as a ten year old child and Michael is suitably evil. Josh's mother comes across tepid and timid but that is intentional. It may make you feel for her but may also make the reader unsympathetic. The story works because of that emotional tie we may feel for the characters. Throughout there is a nice build-up as the consequences become more dire. The ending may bother those who want everything tied together but I thought it was just right, leaving a nice chill in the last paragraph.

So regardless of my dilemma about the intended audience, I found The Bear Who Wouldn't Leave an above average horror fiction and recommend it to those who love a good scary story. But you may not want to read it to your teddy bear. You might give it ideas.

Three and a half stars.

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