(Original review posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/32900.html)Why I Read It:
One of my fourth year English Lit classes is "Gender and Sexuality" and this was the first novel we were assigned to read. Prior to that, I had never heard of this book or author before, despite her being a Canadian author.
I'm always kind of nervous reading books for school when I've never heard of them before. I don't mind reading heavy stuff, but sometimes some readings feel like too much. Thankfully, this was not the case with Bow Grip. This isn't to say that this is a shallow read -- it's still chock-full of of themes to extrapolate -- but it was a leisurely kind of read (which again, is not to say that the book was "simple").
The novel follows Joey, a small-town mechanic in Alberta who is the strong and silent type. He's a recent divorcee whose wife left him for another woman. Various circumstances lead him to take a trip to Calgary, where he's set on a path of self-discovery among other things.
Before reading this novel, I already knew that Ivan Coyote was a butch-lesbian, so I was surprised to say that this novel follows a straight man. This is still definitely a GLBTQ novel though, what with Joey's wife Allyson leaving him for another woman. Part of what makes Joey so likable is his reaction to Allyson leaving him. Instead of being angry and feeling emasculated that she left him for a woman, he's just sad she left him PERIOD. There is not a trace of homophobia to be found in Joey, despite his very crappy situation. His later reaction to Kathleen, Allyson's new partnet is equally endearing when he admits that he wants to like Kathleen because he couldn't bear Allyson having left him for some asshole; it speaks a lot about his feelings for Allyson, how he genuinely LOVED her, and it was incredibly touching.
Equally touching is the friendships that Joey forges while staying at his motel in Calgary. He meets Hector, a widow, and Kelly, a young single mom, and Cecilia, the sister of the man who traded his cello for a car. The bonds that Joey forms with these people (along with the new ones he forges with Allyson) are what largely constitute Joey's transformation, and it's subtle and actually very heart-warming to watch. Of course, it helps that Joey is so likable, but the supporting cast really is stellar as well. Hector especially is very layered, especially in regards to his sexuality. Kelly and Cecilia aren't quite as complicated, but they are still fleshed out and not just props for the plot.
The plot itself isn't action-filled or anything. As you might have gathered from this review, this is a very character-centric novel and is a middle-age coming-of-age story for Joey. And if you're looking for a book exclusive about GLBTQ characters, you're not going to find that either; this book largely deals with straight people, but it's still very much an exploration of gender, but more of gender *performance* than of sexuality.
Either way, it really is a great novel. It's too bad that Coyote is more widely recognized.Final Judgment:
This is a very quiet novel, so it's unsurprisingly character-centric, but that's my cup of tea so I really enjoyed this one. We have an extremely likable main character who is very easy to sympathize with, so watching him grow and come to peace with his wife's divorce was actually very heart-warming and never felt boring. The secondary characters were all fleshed out as well and felt like actual people, and they complemented Joey perfectly. This is a novel written by a butch-lesbian, but don't expect it to be a GLBTQ "issue" book; it just deals with real problems with real problems, and most of those people are actually straight. It IS a novel about gender exploration though, just not in ways that you might expect. Either way, it's very good and definitely worth checking out if you're at all interested in anything I mentioned above. (Just as a side note: I haven't watched a lot of them, but Coyote is amazing at live performances and has a slew of readings she's done on youtube which are definitely worth checking out.)