An exploration of the fascination with the “savage and the wild inside” us, which fuels the human desire “to get intimately close to apex predators.”
Church (Creative Writing/Fresno State Univ.; Ultrasonic, 2014, etc.), who admits to having an obsession with tales of “survival in the face of animal savagery,” begins with the story of David Villalobos, a 25-year-old man who, in 2012, jumped into a tiger cage at the Bronx Zoo. The author attributes the rekindling of his own adolescent preoccupation with violence and his fascination with Villalobos’ leap to his agreement to help out a fellow faculty member by “play-act[ing] the role of a bear attack victim for his beginning reporting class.” The students would then submit an eyewitness report of the incident. In order to play the role convincingly, Church researched the 1967 death of a young woman camping in Glacier National Park, which was the subject of a 2010 documentary film. Despite the brutality of such an event from the point of view of the victim, the author deplores the wide-scale killing of bears in the neighborhood of such an incident in the hope of killing the attacker. As he probed the subject in more detail, Church recognized his own morbid attraction to the thrill evoked by the possibility of such an encounter. At first, he attributes this to the “quiet vigilance and hyper-awareness required to hike in bear country,” but further self-examination led him into deeper territory, including his attraction to the violence of Mike Tyson’s boxing matches and his own potentially violent response to provocation. The author’s large frame makes him a formidable opponent, and while he reassures us that he makes every effort to keep his temper in check even when provoked, he admits the appeal of potentially violent encounters: those “fleeting moments where immortality exists, where you are most fully and completely and terrifyingly alive.”
A powerfully written attention-grabber with a questionable message.