Intimate memoir captures 1950s

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January 29, 2013

Pinboy: a memoir
By George Bowering
Published by Cormorant Books, 276 pages, $29.95

Reviewed by Jenny Boychuk

To say George Bowering had fun with this portrayal of his 15-year-old self is an understatement.

What first seems to be a typical coming-of-age story about a boy growing up in B.C.’s rural Okanagan in the fifties soon turns into something much more entertaining, refreshing and unexpected.

Like many his age, young Bowering loves comic books, westerns and baseball. He writes sports journalism for local newspapers and works part-time as a “pinboy” at the local bowling alley. He helps women carry their groceries and takes it upon himself to help those less fortunate. He eats jam sandwiches and Campbell’s vegetable soup for lunch and has supper at 5 p.m. He’s also got some serious testosterone screaming through his body.

But amid these teenage normalities is something both honest and mysterious. Bowering is in love with three different women: his classmate and steady girlfriend named Wendy, a poor girl from across the tracks named Jeanette—and one of his high school teachers, Miss Verge. Bowering takes us through orchards, lakes, fields and an apartment above the local grocery store with these women. He even risks his life for one of them.

Bowering shows the reader these women through the mind of a teenage boy and, regardless of your gender, the female body suddenly begins to feel foreign. One of the great strengths of this memoir is Bowering’s patience in allowing the reader to experience these women for the first time as he did: He enables the reader to question who they are and who they will be, to question their anatomies.

He plays with language as he recalls, for instance, the word hurt: “Funny verb, that, now that I come to remember the first time I heard it. It was from Wendy herself, sometime over the preceding year. I don’t want you to be hurt, she said, I think. And I wondered about that: does it mean hurt feelings? But it sounded more serious than that, more intimate. But then I got to thinking about the word intimate, which always made me think of inside the brassiere.”

Another major strength of this book lies in the authenticity and playfulness of Bowering’s voice. As a reader, I felt as though I was sitting on the front porch in some small town with him. His stories felt intimate and private, although I never questioned that he was happy to tell them. This book felt like one of those wonderful, unexpected conversations that comes from a single question, and maybe you didn’t ask to know about the rest of it, but you leave feeling damn happy he went there.

Though much of the memoir is light-hearted, Bowering doesn’t hesitate to reveal some of the darker secrets of his youth.

“I still believed in God. I did not go over in my mind a list of reasons why that horse died tied up off the path up in the hills. I only figured that something crazed must to have happened. And I did not tell anyone about what I had found. If it had been a human being I would have told people.”

This most human account of a boy coming into adolescence proves to be both hilarious and heartbreaking. For every awkwardly funny and unwanted erection, there is also true yearning for the women around him. It is a privilege to have a glimpse of this part of Bowering’s life, of this boy who spends half of his time living in books and the other half playing detective in the tall grass as he watches a girl walk home from school.

Jenny Boychuk is a recent graduate of UVIC’s Department of Writing. She lives and writes in Victoria.

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