cover image Bear


Julia Phillips. Hogarth, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-525-52043-6

In the beautiful and haunting latest from Phillips (Disappearing Earth), two 20-something sisters contend with economic precarity and their mother’s terminal illness on present-day San Juan Island, Wash. Sam, the protagonist, and her older sister, Elena, have spent their entire adult lives caring for their mother, a former manicurist whose lung disease was brought about by exposure to chemicals while on the job. Faced with spiraling medical bills, the sisters have no choice but to take unrewarding jobs (Sam as a vendor on the local ferries, Elena as a waitress at a golf club), the drudgery of which is leavened only by the expectation of a “better future” after their mother dies and they sell the house. That is, until they encounter an unexpected visitor to the island: a grizzly bear, which becomes a powerful symbol of hope for Elena, who believes the animal is magical; and terror for Sam, who considers it nothing but a dangerous menace. The bear provides a vehicle for the author’s masterful characterization, as the sisters clash over their perception of the grizzly’s meaning in their lives, and for the increasingly suspenseful plot. Phillips prefaces the story with an excerpt from the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” about two sisters who play with a bear, which sets a simultaneously playful and ominous tone and contrasts powerfully with the novel’s supremely executed realism. This is brilliant. Agent: Suzanne Gluck, WME. (June)