If you’ve ever wanted the truth, the real truth and nothing but the truth about the inner-workings of a teenaged boy brain, you should probably get a former Poet Laureate to describe it to you. That way rather than cringe-worthy, this strange and messy territory can be incredibly amusing.
Pinboy is the most eloquent storytelling of a sexual awakening I’ve ever come across. It’s a fun, hilarious, artful, touching, and often surprising memoir taking place in the Okanagan Valley in the 1950s. Starting off in the local bowling alley, 15-year-old George Bowering is working as the alley’s Pinboy, setting up pins at the end of each lane. It isn’t long before he’s remarking – in vivid detail – which flashes of leg and glimpses of breasts he is able to catch from the regulars…
Pinboy holds a great tone for an introduction to sexytimes. Though it revolves around a adolescent George, the voice is clearly that of a reflective adult Bowering who manages to describe his experiences without the skirt-chasing clichés that one might expect from a puberty-stricken teen. I mean, there is still plenty of skirt-chasing, much of the book centres on it in fact, but the scoop on Bowering’s teenaged escapades are played out with nothing less than the meticulous silver-tongue of such an accomplished writer.
The focus of Pinboy is Bowering’s relationship with 3 different women at the time; his first love Wendy, his classmate Jeannette, and his high school teacher Ms. Verge. All of these women create not one single “awakening” for George, but several, where Bowering is revealed to be 3 very different young men. To Wendy, he is the gentle and loving boyfriend who cherishes her British accent and willowy physique. To Jeannette he is a curious and persistent near-stalker with good, though misguided intentions; and to Ms. Verge he is the passive and inexperienced playmate to her ‘Mrs. Robinson’-like role. In short, he had a busy year.
I think the real strength of Pinboy is Bowering’s ability to be so candid about the revolving door of thoughts that both plague and fuel his teenaged self (and probably the majority of teenaged selves at that). We are brought back into the thick of this chaotic time and Bowering manages to write a relatable account that lets us laugh and squirm over the day-to-day fumbling of this pubescent poet. Bowering doesn’t hold much back when it comes to this…uh, stimulating time, so also expect some explicit scenes.
George Bowering is a pretty important fellow. He was named Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate and an Officer of the Order of Canada in the same year and he’s publishing a ton of novels, poetry and other memoirs, all of which have been a success. Like the jacket blurb on the back cover says, Pinboy reads like a novel and the fact that it is actually a confession makes it all the more enjoyable. I can see how someone like George Bowering would have had a crazy coming-of-age experience like this. And if this book only describes ONE YEAR of George Bowering’ life then… wow, I want to know him. Even though after reading this, I feel like I already do.
The cover features a vintage bowling sign and bubble writing that perfectly compliments the playful way of the book. Now, I wonder if George B. would approve of my sartorial interpretation of vintage cat-eyes and a hot-red skirt? Though, based on what I just read, I have no doubt that he would.
Pinboy: George Bowering
Cormorant Books, 2012
Jacket: Angel Guerra/Archetype