Before I get to the contents of George Bowering’s memoir, Pinboy (Cormorant Books), I’d like to credit the interior text design. Pinboy’s chapter headings are like minimalist neon signs from the early 1950s, skilfully replicated and entirely suited to this tale of growing up in small-town British Columbia (specifically, Oliver, in the sizzling desert of the Okanagan). The narrator, to earn a little pocket money, sets up pins at the local bowling alley. His other identities include school boy, detective boy, Okanagan boy, noble romantic boy, writer boy, Hit Parade boy, and boy who believes his classmates’ sexual adventure yarns.
The focus is mostly on three significant women in the narrator’s life (not counting his easygoing mother, whose taciturn wisdom shows up from the sidelines here and there). Of the three women, two are his peers at high school: Wendy Love, from the prosperous side of the tracks, and Jeanette MacArthur, literally from the other side. The third woman is Monica Verge, teacher of business and home economics, who shockingly challenges the narrator’s sense of romance and nobility.
His life quickly splinters into multi-layered confusion, from comic-book-devouring sports hero to private eye in the pornographic shadows. “I hope that you will agree,” he writes, “that we more sensitive teenagers grew up surrounded by irony. After some US popular psychologist claimed that comic books were turning kids into criminals, parents all over the place tried to keep them out of our hands. Nowadays, when teenagers carry cocaine in one pocket and a cell phone you can download fellatio movies from in the other, comic books don’t seem so scary.”
The author tends to use warm and conversational ways to compare a not-so-innocent past with a dumbed-down, chaotic present. Maybe that’s the only way he (and his readers) can piece together the life-altering, often confusing experiences that he couldn’t share with anyone in the Oliver milieu of sixty years ago. Near the end of the story, the author’s agent warns him against writing something too unconventional, lest his works become unpopular: “Come back when you have a good idea for a non-fiction bestseller.”
Well, thoughts are things, and I’ll hazard a prediction that Pinboy will be George Bowering’s most provocative work.