‘The Ice Bear’ by Helen Dunmore

‘Love of Fat Men’, one of my favorite short story collections, is a bleak landscape of a book, inhabited by shifting characters. Facing transition, not quite fitting in, men and women fall in and out of focus, sharply defined and then blurred, questioning who they are… Dunmore leaves a lot of space in her stories, a territory, which as Blanchot writes, “ can’t be printed anywhere.” In ‘The Ice Bear’, Ulli is on a Baltic ferry crossing, at the end of her summer travels.  With only enough money left to buy two buns, she sits across a café table from a newlywed missionary, coming from “holy people with sweet cake and their shiny pails….” Her attention veers from the straight-laced man, to a group of drunken Finns on the slippery deck. Where does she belong, gulping schnapps or sharing breakfast with an ice bear “wooly and white but they’ll claw you up for the use of their mate and their young”?

From Love of Fat Men, Viking, 1997

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