“The more one looked around in the west the more it seemed obvious that it was the past hanging on for a while.”
George Bowering’s novel Caprice (Penguin) is currently out of print, so this Johnny-come-lately review is my way of saying, “Reprint it, already.” When it was first published in 1987, Caprice set the trend for the next wave of stories set in the West. It’s as wistful and rugged as Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, but hetero. Caprice would make a good mainstream film, dubious as that compliment sounds. The protagonist is an independent woman of the Wild West who is tracking the bad guys who murdered her brother. But this is a duster with a twist: instead of a cowboy riding off into the sunset, we’re deserted by a cow woman riding off into the sunrise. Do you recall Richard Brautigan’s genre Western, The Hawkline Monster? At face value, it looks like Bowering is also trying his hand at a Western, although his book is even suggestive of Sanctuary by William Faulkner. (Faulkner claimed he wrote Sanctuary as a “potboiler” only. But what a brilliant potboiler! I guess he could call that great work anything he wanted.) The point is, Caprice is impossible to categorize. If anything, it’s a poetic, insightful eulogy for the classic Western landscape: “By the 1890s the west had started to shrink . . . it shrank with every word that was sent back from the dry country across the mountains and over the Atlantic Ocean . . . The more one looked around in the west the more it seemed obvious that it was the past hanging on for a while.” Bowering doesn’t write in the Zen-story fashion of Brautigan, but the voice in Caprice is pleading for a plainer, more spiritual time.
Editors’ note: New Star Books published a new edition of Caprice in fall 2010. Caprice is one of three historical novels by George Bowering set in what is now B.C. with recurring characters and themes. The others, Burning Water and Shoot!, were reissued by New Star in 2007 and 2008.