This ocean adventure reads fast and clever but remains what it says on the jacket. Without backstory, identities or context to moor the boy or the bear to the rest of the world, off floats the story on its own.
At first, the sly abstruseness in Shelton’s witty prose is intriguing, even exciting. A boy steps into a rowboat. The rower, a bear, asks “Where to?” The boy waves his hand “vaguely out across the water” and answers, “Just over to the other side, please.” A mystery! But clearly there’s another “side,” a place “where he was going,” even if its distance is farther than expected: “I thought you’d be able to see it [from here].” The diction is unflaggingly clean and clear, droll and mischievous (“A boringly gentle breeze thought about blowing, but decided in the end not to bother”). However, despite storms, sea-monster hazards and an ever-shifting bear/boy dynamic, this book never feels complete. There’s no journey’s end, nor disclosure of destination; hunger somehow becomes a conquerable philosophical challenge: “[H]is hunger had been there for so long that… [i]t was normal now and he didn’t really notice it.” Whatever the message—overcoming obstacles? staying at sea forever? overcoming the need for… food?—this is more allegory than any story form with closure.
Diverting but unanchored, this is training wheels for Waiting for Godot. (Fable. 8-12)