Fiction

Novels

When you sit down to write a novel, and you are facing that proverbial blank page, you may as well have been plunked down in a country whose language you don’t know. The language you are going to try to work with is useless. All you can hope is that you will come up with something that seems powerful, and something more rare that that––beautiful. In that case, you will not be comfortable, but you will be on your way to citizenry. When you sit down to read a novel, well, where are you?”


No One, by George Bowering
No One
, Toronto, ECW, 2018

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A risqué autobiographical novel that fictionalizes the sexual adventures of the author’s youth.

In 2012, acclaimed writer George Bowering published Pinboy, a fictional memoir of his teenage sexual awakening. With No One, Bowering returns to play with form and fact in this autobiographical novel that continues the narrator’s journey in a quest story full of further sexual awakenings as that Pinboy becomes a man.

A writer called “alert, playful, and questioning” by The Globe and Mail, Bowering infuses this work with sexual politics, romantic and social developments, and a backdrop of ancient themes of homesickness and captivity. Readers may delight in the details of the retelling or perhaps they will be browned off. There are no guarantees. The ending will be a pleasant surprise for readers, patient and otherwise.

"I highly recommend reading the latest of Mr. Bowering’s long list of publications. No One follows up on George’s Pinboy and continues his character’s saga into adulthood. Yes, there is sex and lots of it , and hilarity, but there is also pathos, and pain . And the ending is delicious! I believe this writing is George Bowering at the top of his game!"—Lee Trentadue, Shelf Talkers

Read George’s essay regarding No One, “The Objects of my Affection” HERE.


pinboyPinboy, Toronto, Cormorant, 2012. buy-now

“You might wonder why Pinboy is here grouped among my novels, especially as it was shortlisted for nonfiction prizes a few times. Well, I always thought I was writing a novel about a teenager named George Bowering, but when I mailed it to my publisher, I didn’t write anything after the typed title on the first page. I guess you can’t blame my publisher, especially since nonfiction sells better than fiction.”

As a teenager, legendary Canadian poet George Bowering lived the life of an ordinary boy. He loved baseball, read Westerns, held a part-time job, and fantasized about girls and women. George was due for a sexual awakening, which arrived when he was fifteen. But what took place was anything but ordinary when George found himself vying for the affections of three very different women: his first love, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, and one of his high school teachers.

Set in the South Okanagan Valley in the Fifties, Pinboy is an intimately honest and often hilarious memoir that skilfully captures the delirious chaos that takes place as a boy becomes a man.

“Because he knows so well what is factually verifiable, old man Bowering plays around with what did happen, what he wanted to happen, and what he was afraid might happen to the kid he once was as he tries to understand how female human beings live and think. The result is a unique portrait of empathy growing as powerful, compelling and risky as sexual desire.”—T. F. Rigelhof, Globe & Mail

“Once a smartass always a smartass….Bowering’s devotion to the many variations of choking the chicken is tiresome.”—Victor Enns, Winnipeg Review

“Then there’s Miss Verge. Oh my God. Is she for real, this sexy ‘mature’ woman in her 20s, the high school’s business and home economics teacher?”—Steven Brown, Vancouver Sun

“Pinboy is the most eloquent storytelling of a sexual awakening I’ve ever come across.”—The Book Stylist “it ought to be a shoo-in for the Leacock Medal for Humour.”—Globe & Mail


shootShoot!, Toronto, Key Porter, 1994. New York, St. Martin's, 1996. Vancouver, New Star Books, 2008. buy-now

“I didn’t want people to concentrate on them as individuals as much as representatives of what was going on in terms of race at that time. If anybody asked me what I was writing, I would tell them I was writing about race.”

Across Canada's wild west of the late 1800s, brothers Allan, Charlie, Archie and cousin Alex Hare were known as the McLean gang. They were also known as "breeds" - outcasts caught between the cultures - Alex Hare, a Métis, and Allan, Charlie and Archie, brothers of mixed Salish and Scottish blood. They roamed the high ranch country of British Columbia in the 1870s, cattle rustling, stealing and creating high-spirited mayhem.

Until one frozen, crystalline morning in 1879, when they shot two men in cold blood, one of them, Johnny Ussher, the local sheriff. Tracked down by a posse of over 100 men, the McLean Gang were eventually trapped and besieged.

“Editor’s Choice: A murdered sheriff, a gang of ‘breeds’ rampaging in the high ranch country of the Chilcotin in the British Columbia of the 1870s, a posse of more than 100 men, and a fight in an abandoned cabin. It’s funny, it’s Canadian history and it’s Bowering.”—Globe and Mail

“Shoot! Simply fails to draw readers into the drama of the brothers’ battles. Uncharacteristically, Bowering seems unsure about what sense of history this story should evoke and in what spirit the story should be told…The result of this tentative mix is a scrambled and disarranged novel that at times tantalizes but frustrates overall. Without a sense of its own spirit, Shoot! Simply misfires.”—Klay Dyer, Ottawa Citizen

“If we still believe in canon-building, we should find pride of place for Shoot!, a great example of clear-eyed Canadian historical fiction.”—starred review, Quill & Quire

“You can see what Bowering is up to here: he’s writing an anti-history, or at least, a history short on the usual stuff of vast noble plans and individual heroics. He’s also trying to tell the Natives’ stories…on an equal footing with those of the white settlers. He’s questioning imperialism in all its forms, and he’s inserting female sensibilities into what has largely been a male story.”—Lynne Van Luven

“One-sided, ill-disguised sermon distorts account of McLean gang.”—Saskatoon Star-Phoenix

Reading from Shoot! at a One Okanagan, One Book event in Summerland BC

Reading from Shoot! at a One Okanagan, One Book event in Summerland BC

“Bowering offers us a revisionist western in a language that is tough, laconic, and satirical, but which also reaches the elemental power of fable. The McLeans are literally fabulous: as vigorous as Jesse James, as young as Billy the Kid. It is a great surprise that they are not as famous as the outlaw American contemporaries. Bowering suggests a reason, in humour so bitter it must be spit out like old tobacco juice: ‘Canadian history is written by school-teachers who know a lot about the Government. If an individual with a gun shows up, he had better be an American or else.’ The author sees the way justice was dealt to the McLeans as a total erasure. They were erased both from the land and from history, for a very Canadian reason: we here in the peaceable kingdom have to retain the reality and the illusion of Peace, Order, and Good Government. Get the McLean gang hanging on the gibbet and out of the pages of history books.”—David Mazerolle, Quill & Quire, starred review

“Biggest Disappointment…An utterly forgettable work.”—Geist


harry's fragmentsHarry's Fragments, Toronto, Coach House Press, 1990.

buy-now“There are a lot of literary quotations or misquotations (and the hero only a cab driver), as when Harry says it was Mata Hari, the famous spy, who wrote, ‘I like to explore my faculties as large,’ when we know that it was US poet Robert Duncan who thus explained his reason for writing poetry.”

In a parody of a thriller novel, Harry the Hack, newly recruited literary spy, follows a mystery woman, seeking wisdom and sanity.

“The veritable ends of the earth here meet in George Bowering’s engaging creation, the comfortably paranoid bon vivant Harry. This is the story of our Western World writ very large and very clever. If Leisure Suit Larry had a brother, Harry could well be him.”—Robert Creeley

“Atwood and company use language to tell stories while Bowering tells stories in order to draw attention to language. The stories told by Atwood and company are sophisticated and complex, and the language used to convey them subtle, nuanced and fine-tuned, but they rarely make as many demands on a reader as Bowering’s work. This is because the very nature of words and literary convention is always under question in that work.” Philip Marchand, Toronto Star

“The book is sexy and sensual, a clever mix of sophisticated cocktail-party wit and bordello bawdry. Literary puns, clichés and allusions are tossed into this remarkable ‘spy’ story. Exhilarating for its inventiveness, sensuality and humor, Harry’s Fragments is a Literary ‘adventure intrigue,’ and Bowering skillfully leads us into the ‘muddle’ of it. Ultimately, the reader must figure out how the fragments fit together.”—Jeffrey Canton

“Not Wild About Harry:   There is a whiff of intellectual Barnumism about this book, complete with three pre-publication shills. He`s trying to lure the rubes and suckers who crave escapism into his tent with the promise of a real thrill. What they get is his scintillating mind, but it`s still a cheat.”—Douglas Marshall, Books in Canada


capriceCaprice, Toronto, New York, Viking/Penguin, 1987, 1988. 2nd Ed. 1994. Vancouver, New Star Books, 2010. buy-now

“This is the first literary work that I composed wholly on a computer.”

It's the mid 1890s in Kamloops, British Columbia. Two men argue over a bottle of whisky and in the struggle Frank Spencer, an American outlaw–turned–ranch hand, kills Pete Foster, a French–Canadian and fellow ranch hand.

Enter Caprice: a vision and a brain. Almost six feet tall, with flaming red hair and long legs, and toting a lethal bullwhip, she sets out to avenge her brother's murder. Travelling with her beloved black Spanish stallion, Caprice trails her brother's murderer to Mexico and back. Determined and headstrong as she is smart, she leaves an impression on the people she encounters in her journey: Gert, the whore with a heart of gold; Gert's son, for whom she provides affirmation, and not the least, Frank Smith, her lover, a teacher and amateur baseball player who wants her to leave the law enforcement to the professionals and marry him.

Caprice finally comes face to face with her brother's murderer at Deadman's Falls.

First published in 1987 and based on actual events in BC's history, Caprice is a witty, adventurous and colourful recreation of a Canadian heroine's quest to avenge her brother's murder, a woman well ahead of her times, who refused to be set into a stereotype, who questioned authority and did so with unflinching resolve.

“Like William Burroughs’s The Place Of Dead Roads and Thomas McGuane’s Nobody’s Angel, Caprice is nothing less than a reinvention of the western.… Above all, Caprice is an excuse for Bowering to horse around. Because he is not saddled with the conventions of the western, he is able to have fun, pun, digress and frolic in this yarn with its tales as tall as mountains and as pure as a prairie sunset.” Charles Mandel, Globe & Mail

“This is Bowering at his quick-witted best…. In Caprice we have a serious, spontaneous, sly and consistently enjoyable exploration of what it mans to live in the west by a distinctly British Columbia writer…the novel stands as the most engaging fiction the overly prolific, sometimes arrogant, always audacious, 52-year-old, Okanagan-born post-modernist has written.”—Alan Twigg, The Province

“If the world of Canadian letters were a classroom, Bowering would be the kid who sits at the back of the room with his feet up on the desk, making wisecracks. That’s his chosen pose. Behind the banter and bravado is one of Canada’s most interesting novelists.”—Ken McGoogan, Books in Canada

“The most charitable thing you can say about George Bowering’s new Western novel Caprice is that it’s an easy read…The book is as limp as a three-legged mare. Mr. Bowering has succeeded at neither spoofing the Western genre nor giving it a modern spin. Where is Zane Grey when you need him?” Morley Walker, Winnipeg Free Press

“Caprice is many things, then, but it is first and foremost a wonderful combination of a readerly and a writerly text. It draws us in to a genuine narrative yet it also questions the whole narrative enterprise. It recognizes that ‘characters’ are only made of words, yet if finds the words to create ‘sympathetic’ and interesting characters. It continually reminds us of the playful nature of the craft of fiction, yet it plays fairly by its own rules and provides a rich and complex pleasure for the reader willing to play along.”—Douglas Barbour, Canadian Literature


Burning WaterBurning Water,  Toronto, New York, General, 1980, 1983. Penguin, 1994. Yilin (Chinese), 2000. Vancouver, New Star Books, 2007. En eaux troubles, Montreal, Quinze, 1982. Transl. L.-Philippe Hébert. buy-now

“[Robert] Kroetsch pointed out about Burning Water that it was a signal that our story did not have to be the story of people coming from Europe over to the east coast of the United States or Canada. The Pacific is also a story, and probably a story that we are going to see more of in the future. So Kroetsch talks about it as a Pacific Rim kind of book, which I didn’t think about at the time, but it certainly makes sense to me.”

First published in 1980 to high acclaim, Burning Water won a Governor General's Award for fiction that year. A rollicking chronicle of Captain Vancouver's search for the Northwest Passage, the book has over its career been mentioned in recommended lists of postmodern fiction, BC historical fiction, gay fiction and humour. This gives you some idea of the scope of what has been called Bowering's best novel.

"I have sometimes said, kidding but not really kidding," writes its author, "that I attended to the spirit of the west coast, and told the story about the rivals for our land as an instance in which the commanders decided to make love, not war."

As an accurate account of Vancouver's exploration of our coastline, Burning Water conveys the exact length–99 feet–of the explorer's ship, and contains citations from his journals. In a work of fanciful fiction, things usually thought to be impossible transpire, without compromising the realism of the text. Bowering recalls that his free hand with history particularly incensed the founder of the National Archives, who had edited the journal of George Vancouver and complained in print that Burning Water differed too much from other, similar books in its field.

The quotation used on subsequent promotional and marketing material: “provocative and imbued with high humour and imagination.”

“Burning Water seems frivolous and gimmicky at first, and that impression is not entirely dispelled at the end.”—William French, Globe & Mail

The ending of one review as published:
“Another layer of storytelling is the bawdy, sometimes silly humor of Bowering spilling out. The dialogue between the Indians in this book, especially in the opening scene, echoes “Saturday Night Live”. Or it follows closely in the tradition of movies like Airplane and Caddyshack, not entirely slapstick, but ludicrous humor, an abundance of puns and one-liners.” The ending that the paper removed: “Oddly enough, the effect of this makes the treatment of history seem more human.”—Marty Gervais, The Windsor Star.

“This is a truly ugly book, ugly in spirit as in appearance…a book possessing no authentic voice, no authentic sense of time or place, a book adrift in the author’s fancy (yes, he uses that word), wallowing in post-colonial guilt. “Without a storyteller, George Vancouver is just another dead sailor,” avers George Bowering in his prologue to Burning Water. With that dead sailor, George Bowering is just another deadbeat academic scribbler, though to be fair George Bowering has done for George Vancouver what Fletcher Christian did for William Bligh. Historical novel this ain’t, real fiction it is, and how. Remember that junk.”—Chris Scott, Books in Canada

The cover of the General Governor’s Award presentation copy.

The cover of the General Governor’s Award presentation copy.

“To a certain extent, it might be valid to say that in Burning Water Mr. Bowering has ‘re-written history’ and some have gone so far as to say ‘he has no right to do that.’ They are wrong. Burning Water is a fiction based on history: an accounting of what it means to go in search of a place that only exists in the mind. It tells of the 18th century voyages of Captain George Vancouver who—like a poet—is obsessed with making the perfect map of the perfect place—and who is constantly thwarted by the real geography of a real and disappointing world. The excitement of this book is the excitement of making a voyage of discovery, not only into the unknown places of the physical world—but the unknown, uncharted places of the past itself and of the mind of a man whose imagination was his only true companion. Halfway through his journey, this one true companion dies—and George Vancouver is left, like most human beings, at the mercy of reality.
“Burning Water is—on the face of it—a tragedy: but it also contains its share of comedy and slapstick. Its characters are vivid and intriguing: its world—both real and imaginary—is marvelous and its story is exciting, informative and gripping. In very sense, George Bowering has created a brilliant piece of writing that belongs in the company of winners.”—Timothy Findley, Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction Citation.

“The worst distortions of Vancouver’s character are found in George Bowering’s novel Burning Water which has the barest veneer of fact covering the whatever-it-is from which that author suffers and which has been foisted on the reading public as worthy of literary merit. In contrast, another novelist, Brenda Guild Gillespie, has written On Stormy Seas, a fictional, yet sensitive account of Vancouver’s life. Though it is based on some solid research, On Stormy Seas and its author are totally out-gunned by Bowering who has been given the support and recognition of the Canada Council, in an act that defies all logic.”—J. E. Roberts, BC Historical News

“brilliant fictional take on George Vancouver’s exploits on the northwest coast.”—Steve Brown, Vancouver Sun


a short sad book A Short Sad Book, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1977; Vancouver, New Star Books, 2017.

“In the section ‘The Pretty Good Canadian Novel’, there are paragraphs taken straight out of so-called great Canadian novels and just fired into the text, because they’re so silly. I just picked them at random. Nobody has ever said anything about the fact that I plagiarized a paragraph out of Hugh MacLennan, a paragraph out of Mazo De le Roche, a paragraph out of Morley Callaghan, a paragraph out of Ernest Buckler, etc.”

a short sad book by george boweringThe secret passion of John A. Macdonald. The reasons why Louis Riel failed. The truth behind the death of Tom Thomson. CIA meddling in Canadian nationalism. The agony of the Acadian expulsion. Strange eros on a Vancouver chairlift. All these and more fashion the web that snares two Ontario detectives as they search for Evangeline and George Bowering as he comes to terms with the disappointments and pleasures of growing up Canadian in A Short Sad Book.

“For Bowering, clearly, A Short Sad Book is a way of settling some scores, a collection of in-jokes and puns, a defence of the Black Mountain school of poetry that helped shape him, a series of gentle pokes at his friends—and something more: a comic meditation on the nature of Canadian literature as opposed to literature in Canada, mixed with an inquiry into some of the links between fiction and reality. Whatever he intended, he carries if off with a fine absurdist technique and a certain shy sense of style.”—Robert Fulford, Saturday Night.

“Much of the humour of A Short Sad Book comes from it being written outside the would-be tyranny of centralist Ontario myth—from outside the provenance of hockey, beavers, loons, the Group of Seven, and maples trees, from where mountains are larger than lakes, baseballs more familiar than hockey pucks, Doukhobor hats more common than Indian feathers, from where ‘cigars mean more to Canadian literature than snow.’ It mocks the glib categories of the cultural detectives—‘The Great Canadian Novel,’ ‘the edible beaver,’ ‘the longest undefended border,’ ‘The Immigrant Experience,’ ‘the problem of the one-book (Canadian) novelist,’ ‘the great Canadian culture hunt.’ Additional humour comes from the scores of (mostly Canadian) book titles hidden in the text. Test your literary IQ. Hunt your culture….
“The modernist novel of invisible craftsmanship and reality-illusion is ridiculed and becomes, by implication, another part of the Central Canada con job, another myth by which to create History and invent Textbook. Ontario survival.
“The prose of A Short Sad Book is the ‘innocent’ prose traditional to the satiric novel, a combination of the ingenuous tone of Gulliver, the inquisitive tone of Tristan Shandy, and the rhythmical matter-of-factness of Stein’s Three Lives. It is a style in which syntax, puns, and image reveal more than the narrator appears to know, in which the objects of satire drown themselves in their own lakes, trap themselves in their own beavers, hoist themselves on their own cigars, and so on.”—Frank Davey

“The professor of literature will find his undergraduate lecture notes comically echoed; the student of Canadian literature and history will find his clichés trotted out and thumped; the trendy follower of contemporary fiction (amongst whom the present reviewer must meekly number himself) will find himself cleverly out-trendied; the observer of Canadian literary and academic politics will recognize a variety of send-ups; and, finally those worrying about Canadian identity might be able to laugh at the comical echoes of their worries. A Short Sad Book is a truly delightful piece of comic writing, and one that I have not begun to exhaust in two readings.”—Leon Surette, Canadian Literature.

GB in home office, ca. 1977

GB in home office, ca. 1977

 


fiddler's nightFiddler's Night, Dos Equis, 1976.

Fiddler’s Night” was a wise choice of title by Mr. Bowering. The prose resembles nothing more than it does someone fiddling around with language, and remains, despite its author’s winking eye, totally dark as night. The notion of having the would-be narrator die before the book is finished is an old trick that has never worked. This reader’s advice to Mr. Bowering is to return to poetry, where he has managed to be average in attainment.”––Roark Mathews, in Hammer Review.

Realist writing directs you elsewhere, the surface obliterates itself; not so postmodern writing, which foregrounds its surface at the expense of the reference. GB is curiously astride this line between figure and referent, and the ideal example is Fiddler’s Night. In Errata GB calls it his ‘third published book of fiction,’ (italics mine) in which he ‘tried to find and show whatever it was that had always married realism and the openly-manipulated text in my mind.’ Using metaphors both of crafting and discovering, GB situates the interface of these processes in his own mind. The text, however, is an attempt at this interface which seems doomed to fail except as it may exemplify contrary stances the harmonization of which is left to the reader. Thus, in the active integration of the irreconcilable the reader’s mind marries ‘realism and the openly-manipulated text.’ The energy transferred by the text to the reader in the fashion of projective verse is heightened by the extremity of polarization in the text, which is why, GB says, ‘In Fiddler’s Night the young people should have been as persuasive as those in U.S.A. and the formal fiddling as irritating. The greater the difference, the greater the potential energy.”—Susan McMaster, Measure’s Game: The Writing of George Bowering, SFU MA thesis

In Fiddler’s Night, Bowering has left us a fiction that requires a lot of work by his readers, who might, after all that effort, wonder whether they have actually experienced a novel. The plot, characters, settings, all seem to vanish from sight, and the writing itself is finally evanescent. But a faithful student of such work will find herself comparing it to Beckett, Rumaker and Vuidiere.”––Lidia Cortez-Williams, in The Guelph Review of Canadian Writing.


mirror on the floorMirror on the Floor, Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1967. Vancouver, Anvil Press, 2014. buy-now

I really wanted my first book of fiction to be published by McClelland & Stewart.

Book blurb from the 2014 Anvil Press edition: “Mirror on the Floor was first published in 1967 by McClelland & Stewart, the first novel from a young writer named George Bowering. Now with over 100 publications to his credit, we are proud to be reissuing this Vancouver classic, Bowering's debut novel.”

The novel focuses on one summer in the life of UBC graduate student Bob Small, and his roommate, George Delsing, as they study, smoke cigarettes, endure tedious summer jobs, joust one another with philosophical banter and literary repartee, and strike out on near-nightly adventures in Small's "poor old over-traveled yellow Morris Minor" to the pubs and late-night diners of East Hastings and Main Street.

They spend much of their time carousing and engaging in conversation with the old-timers, retired seamen, dockworkers, and unemployed loggers. And it is on one such night that Bob Small encounters a mysterious and troubled young woman outside the city lock-up. Her name is Andrea and he can't seem to shake-–or understand–-the inexplicable attraction he feels for her; and from this night on, like an apparition, Andrea appears everywhere: the library, the coffee houses, the bars, the street, and Bob Small is slowly and inevitably pulled into her orbit, an orbit that spins on a tragic and ever-tightening inward coil.

Mirror on the Floor vividly evokes the Vancouver of the early 60s, a Vancouver where neon signs still shimmered on the rain-soaked streets of the Downtown Eastside and Granville Street bustled with movie-goers.

“Vancouver sparkles and whirls…Bowering is never more a poet than when he evokes the sight, sounds and feel of the city.”—Toronto Star

“Bowering has created in Andrea Henderson a nubile triumph of the recent novel.”—Canadian Forum

“A decade ago in France, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Michel Butor and other choseistes created a small revolution in fiction by transferring attention from the character to the environment. The human beings in their novels became, as it were, membranes to receive impressions of objects in the outer world; the objects and not the people were given solidity. The choseistes too were over-deliberate, and it is hard now to read a novel by Robbe-Grillet as anything but an intellectual exercise. What Bowering has achieved is a humanization of the choseiste approach. The principal presence in Mirror on the Floor is undoubtedly Vancouver, a living growth like coral, in and out of whose chambers the characters move like reef fish. But, like the fish, they live on equal terms with the environment, not originating their destinies, but, as we all do, assisting in their un- folding.”—George Woodcock, Canadian Literature. (Click here for full review.)

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