“…a vast, sprawling feast of a book. You finish reading it glad of the experience, aware that some of the ingredients were fabulous, even astonishing…dazzling language and poetic imagery…abound.”
—The New York Times Book Review
Bowering Creates a Wonderful Three-ring Circus Of A Story
At the end of a series of quotations on the frontispiece of Visible Worlds, comes this from Oscar Wilde: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”
The mystery of poet and playwright Marilyn Bowering’s second novel is plainly visible, sitting on every page like life—dense, unfathomable, webbed, reasonless, triangulated, lying, hopeful life.
Bowering begins with a pun: “My father is an Odd Fellow” At the end of that first paragraph narrated by Albrecht Storr, she hints with seductive data of the web to follow: “My father’s mistress—my mother-in-law, Madame Pince-Jones—seated between my parents, frowns…”
Albrecht is a twin & without his other half. “I am less than myself.” He is very aware of the shadow of his brother: “Beautiful Gerhard, fair where I am dark, straight where I am stooped; narrow-boned, acute, handsome, sensitive, gifted. Gerhard, who has ruined my life.”
Albrecht and Gerhard Storr are children of German immigrants to Canada. Friedl favors Gerhard, wants to send him home to Germany to study music; Wilhelm’s vocation is butchering, his avocation is magnetism, a study that runs like a current through the book. Magnetism titles many of the chapters; “Human Magnetism”, “Personal Magnetism”, “Life Is Magnetism”, and magnetism explains the draw of the characters, one unto the other.
The Storrs’ neighbors are the Fergussons, the widow Pince-Jones and her daughters Pru and Mary, and, down the street, the Bones. Bill Bone works for a circus; his mistress, Mildred Lark, is the Tiger Queen; his wife, Bella (once a bareback rider), has lost her beauty; his son, Nathanial, is Albrecht’s friend and enemy.
Bowering scatters these people from British Columbia to Germany, then to Korea. She injects them into wars, personal and worldwide. She has them lie and she has them lie down with each other. She has them tell their families’ stories. Along the way, she loses a baby, abandons another, and steals one. Their story scuttles along chronologically, beginning in 1934 and told matter-of-factly by Albrecht; but between each chapter, Bowering insinuates a monologue by a German woman crossing Siberia alone in 1960.
Who is she, this Fika? What has she to do with the Storrs, the Fergussons, the Bones? This mystery is not so visible, although Bowering’s hints become broader as Fika’s trek continues steadily while the novelist has Albrecht tell the other, less direct, story that brings him up to 1960.
Bowering can be trusted with this mystery, for she’s not just story-telling; she’s wordsmithing. She’s crafting descriptions of space and sound: “the aurora borealis drifts, gossamer and grassy;” & cries are “fingernails scratching your eardrum”. She toys with time, teasing the reader by allowing Albrecht to stay in the present tense no matter the day he’s speaking or the story he’s speaking of.
Bowering attends to detail: “She folds the apron into a tiny square and places it neatly, but mistakenly, in the cutlery drawer.” Bowering moves stalwartly toward her reason for picking Albrecht to narrate: an S.S. major explains Gerhard’s dream of falconry, “Every boy wants to control a wild creature. It is not so unusual”.
For Albrecht, the wild creature might be Nathanial Bone or this three-ring circus of a story or the twentieth century. “We have got to get used to our losses, Albrecht thinks to himself. This is normal. This is what life in the twentieth century is about. You bridge over pain. You carry on and stick by and stick to.”
In Visible Worlds, Marilyn Bowering has created a shockingly wonderful novel manifesting John Donne’s belief that “we were mutual Elements to us. And made of one another.”
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Martha Baker; Special To The Post-Dispatch
Harper Collins Canada, 1997, ISBN 9 780006 481256
USA 1998, UK 1998, Finland 1998, Germany 1999
Limited Hardcopy Availability.