Those responsible for the cover of this book certainly picked up one of its recurring figures: the strong, imperious, take-charge, man-tasking woman who may also be, depending on the views of a male narrator, an attractively “crazy woman” (80) and possibly at times suicidal. More about her later.
After reading the opening stories in this collection I hadn’t thought I was going to like it. Readers like me who can be bored with fiction that recycles the once innovative metafictional wordplay of the 1960s and 70s should probably begin at the fourth story, “Professor Minaccia.” The first two stories, however, are indeed pomo-clever, and the third an interesting retake of the tough-guy Canadian poet and his poems of “sentimental violence” (39) that the young bpNichol tried to satirize in his 1968 Captain Poetry Poems.
“Professor Minaccia” and two other quite intriguing stories evoke the woman of the cover, as well as the child sex-abuse scenes of Bowering’s recent memoir Pin Boy. In each of these the take-charge woman sets a series of tasks and set of rules which the younger or less confident male must follow to win her approval. There are echoes here of the medieval courtly love romance in which a ‘belle dame sans merci’ sets tasks and limits for her knightly suitor – echoes particularly in Bowering’s characterization of his young men as naive and at times comically
If I had been a refrigerator she would have gone through me in a single night.
Okay, that is an exaggeration, but I do remember her consuming me greedily
on many a night, on many a carpet or porch or staircase.
I say greedily with justification. (167)
In “Kassandra” the series of tasks the young man must perform appears to have been carefully sequenced by his lover, with each task involving rules and his being constrained by handcuffs or blindfold. I choose the words ‘task,’ 'rules,' and ‘constrain’ because Bowering is well known to have set himself tasks, rules, and constraints when creating various of his poetry projects, from Geneve in 1971 to My Darling Nellie Grey in 2010 and the cruise-ship exercises of The World, I Guess in 2014. These three stories appear to thematize that reliance on constraints – and can be read as personifying his muse as a beautiful woman bearing handcuffs. The constraints however can also constrain and limit the woman – one of the complexities to which the stories and Pin Boy in its own way also attend.
In the book’s back cover blurb the publisher teases potential readers with the possibility that each of 10 Women’s stories may offer “a portrait of a woman with whom the author may have had either an intimate or a meaningful relationship.” Could be. More relevant, however, is the fact that all things that writers choose to imagine or re-imagine in print are events within their life stories.