MiniReview: "Bow Grip" by Ivan E. Coyote

What is it?

 A Canadian novel, first published in 2006. 


What is it about?

 It’s the story of Joey, a 40-ish auto mechanic from Drumheller, Alberta, recently separated from his wife, who left him to live with a woman in Calgary. Various things take Joey to Calgary for a long weekend, where he checks into the Capri Motor Court and Inn and has encounters with a colourful range of people, including his ex-wife and her girlfriend, a dirty-mouthed cello instructor, the beautiful sister of a mysterious man from Drumheller known as the cowboy, and a next-door neighbour at the motel who hosts a series of attractive men in his room but says he isn’t gay.

Lots of characters!

Yeah. It’s an easy book to read, full of a tide of events over a very short period of time. (An aside, and a disclosure: When I was a child, I used to flip through books and choose the ones that had a lot of dialogue. I have a soft spot for character-driven novels—for human drama, in other words. Which this is.)


What’s queer about it?

A most interesting question, Watson! I was drawn to the book because the author, Ivan E. Coyote, is a well-known writer on issues around gender, and I had never read anything by them. (NB: Ivan uses third-person plural pronouns on their website, so I’m following suit.) When I began Bow Grip, I thought, There’s nothing queer about this at all! The main character is a real “guy,” a beer-drinking auto mechanic, straight, and I must say, Coyote captures his voice beautifully. I grew up with guys like this, and as an artsy, queer young fellow, they scared the living daylights out of me! But as the story continued, I realized that the author was constantly playing with ideas around gender and sexuality. In fact, Joey, while at first glance a guy’s guy, has what I would call a female sensibility, or sensitivity. He’s gentle, withdrawing, passive; he remembers to put the seat down on the toilet after he pees in a lady’s house; he lets women make the first move in romantic situations. He even has a low sperm count.


Sounds like a nice guy, that Joey.

He’s lovely! But apart from Joey, there are all kinds of other gender-bending things going on here, sometimes just the tiniest of touches, like the young man who works in the music store who wears copper nail polish. The world that Ivan E. Coyote creates is absolutely believable and recognizable, but it also has something of the flavour of a queer paradise: people here are kind, respectful, and forgiving of one another’s peccadilloes and weaknesses. I guess, for me, that would be one of the touchstones of what I would call a queer sensibility: openness, acceptance, an unwillingness to judge. All qualities, incidentally, that are in short supply in the world of 2017.


And this book has all those things?

It does. It was a delightful read. As I said, it’s an easy read (it was my bedtime book for a few nights), it’s a page-turner, and it’s brimming with queer kind-heartedness.

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