‘Pinboy’ by George Bowering

Book Reviews

Reviewed by Victor Enns

Sourly, he poured three fingers of pomegranate juice over just the right amount of ice, topping up with Perrier. At least he still had the heavy rocks glass and ice, having given up whiskey. He had just finished reading how George Bowering lost his virginity, trying to decide if the story really merited 276 pages of text, and the $29.95 sticker price. Ah, he said, I have a rubric from an earlier review, let’s see what happens if I use it.

Suitability of the form to the content 

Bowering’s always had a knack for presentation in print, and has published in at least as many genres as Joyce Carol Oates and as many books. In this case you can’t judge the book by its cover, however brilliant, because setting pins in a five-pin bowling alley in Oliver, BC barely even provides a setting for the book. The cover’s really cool though, like George and most fifteen-year-old-boys in small towns wanted to be, and as a title Wanker would be either too revealing, or too much of a marketing challenge for his publisher.

Bowering knows how to tell a good story as befits a writer fond of Robert Kroetsch’s approaches, and is as unreliable as a narrator. So as long as we keep that in mind, Pinboy reads easily, breezily, as a memoir or a novel, or Spalding Gray-like monologue. Still the smartass with the usual pomo tricks, and then of course, the reference to the pomo tricks with my favourite pun being “Spill, Memory,” of which he seems inordinately proud. Once a smartass always a smartass. He’s funny, and I like to laugh, which makes up for a lot, but it’s pretty hard to hide that the book is too long. I’m just imagining a 250 page memoir of each year in his life, or even of each of his conquests. So OK, let him get away with it once, because it has such a lovely happy ending. At least for George.

Story/Plot/Narrative Strategies

The story is straight forward, charting Bowering’s movement from innocence to experience from age fifteen to sixteen, in a pretty traditional chronological narrative, with the requisite foreshadowing for each piece to snap into place ready for the next one.

There are several story lines – his relationship with his family (minimal as it is for most fifteen-year-olds), his love for his girlfriend whom he respects and does not screw, his desire to protect another girl in the community who is abused by her father who breaks his arm with a baseball bat in the bushes outside their house when she reports him peeping, and his fantasies, both realized and not, concerning his female teachers, one of them relieving him of his virginity, much to his surprise and gratitude.

Surprise and refreshment (renewal or advancement of the form)

He wondered what he might say here. His editor had told him Bowering gets laid by a teacher by the end of the novel, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. Idiot! He thought, I meant this to be about what makes this book more interesting than someone else’s story of losing their virginity.
Tenderness. Not just the delicate touch and dead on description of small town 1950s Canada, but the winsome longing for cupping a young girl’s breast in his palm. Must also be a poet.

Shit that’s not form either.

Character development

It’s all Bowering all the time. It’s hard though, not to be impressed by his chivalry and industry. Son of the town’s chemistry teacher, he works hard in the bowling alley, but harder picking fruit in the Okanagan orchards. There are, though, significant moments in which Bowering portrays the development, or perhaps idealizations, would be a better description, of the girls and women in his life at that time.

Use of Language (style, metaphors etc.)

Bowering’s influences especially during the time covered here include a lot of westerns, detective pulp, and science fiction. He has fun with them, while showing off his love and knowledge of what is now praised as genre writing. Hey, look at how cool I was, and now am once again!


There is a lot of style and feeling in the way you sing,” said my fiancée. “but you do not hit the exact middle of the note, I must say.”

She handed me a saucepan.

“What you were hearing right then was a blues chord,” I said.

“You cannot sing a chord,” she said in a voice pretty well devoid of cruelty. She was the only person I knew who said “cannot.” In fact she often spoke English I had otherwise not encountered outside of books.

 “What do you know about the blues?” I enquired, or perhaps inquired.

“I know that you give me the blues at least once a day.”

“Does this have to do with becoming mature, or not becoming mature?”

“That would be, I am coming to believe, an unlikely development.”

“All I can tell you, I said, “is that the prospect of growing up and being an adult is not at all attractive to me.”

“Are we here talking again about George Bowering the noble and romantic, young lad?”

“I love you, Limey.”

“I love you too, colonial savage.”

Most rewarding theoretical approach

The passage above indicates that a post-colonial appreciation of the text would not be out of place, as the orchard owners are usually Limeys back from World War II and their employees working-class locals, so a class analysis, or Marxist approach might work, especially of the Groucho variety. Despite Bowering’s disparaging remarks regarding psychology, he does end up admitting there may be an unconscious and a psychoanalytic framework would provide a mildly rewarding reading. Gender studies specialists, though, would have a field day and maybe a bit of fun with Bowering’s posturing, and awareness of posturing, trying on different masculinities, looking for one that will fit.

Most irritating aspect of the book

Bowering’s devotion to the many slang variations of choking the chicken is tiresome.

Recommended secondary text

Kerrisdale Elegies by George Bowering.


He was trying to decide whether he could recommend this book, until he realized it was the only book he had read cover to cover in the month of October, though he had started five others.

Cormorant | 320 pages |  $29.95 | cloth | ISBN # 978-1897151938



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Victor Enns

Victor Enns writes poetry, reads, and reviews fiction. His new book of poems is Afghanistan Confessions (Hagios, 2014).