IVAN E. COYOTE is a natural-born storyteller. When Coyote walks onto a stage and begins to speak, the audience stops opening hard candies and checking the time. They sit still and they listen. There is a rhythm and a presence in Coyote’s storytelling that carries over into the books that go along with it. As each story takes shape, the reader is carried from one event to the next as easily as if Coyote is making mere small talk âe” that is, until the larger picture emerges.
The Yukon-raised Coyote has three books and a CD of storytelling on the shelves already, each a pleasure to pick up and difficult to put it down. That was a great thing when Coyote was producing short stories. Now Coyote has written a novel, and Bow Grip has the same momentum as previous works, which means readers are liable to be kept up to all hours reading. It is going to make for some bleary mornings.
This novel marks a bit of a departure for Coyote. The autobiographical tales of life in the Yukon are gone. Nonetheless, it presents a world that will be familiar to Coyote fans âe” a small town just the way the author seems to like it best. That is, seen from the cab of a truck while jawing with a pretty friend on the curb, trying to make eye contact over the head of the dog in the passenger seat.
Bow Grip is set in Lethbridge, Alberta. It introduces a cast of characters who would probably wear the term redneck proudly, and Coyote paints them with great affection. These are caring people who respect differences whether they like ’em or not, and they show it by leaving well enough alone. At least, Joey does. He’s a mechanic still smarting from a triple downer: his own infertility, the subsequent divorce, and the further subsequent departure of his wife to Calgary with another woman. At the friendly nagging of his mother and his friends, he’s looking for a way to get over the hump when a stranger gives him a cello as a trade for a car. By the end of the narrative, Joey has met characters of all stripes Albertan, and made the happy discovery that there are myriad ways to be part of a family.
Bow Grip is dedicated to the men in Coyote’s family, and read in the right frame of mind, it could act as an instruction manual on being a good man. Joey witnesses many less-than-acceptable behaviours from his fellow men, but partakes in none. Instead he takes on responsibility for others even when it is not required. He’s helpful when it’s needed. He is gentle, and he is generous in challenging situations, such as during a hustler’s come-on in a Calgary park.
“Cold night,” I said.
“Cold, but dry. You can stay warm if you stay dry.”
I nodded, since this was true.
“You looking for a little action then?”
“Beg your pardon?”
“Looking to hook up?âe
Joey doesn’t even understand what the guy is talking about initially, but when he does, he doesn’t get exercised over it. He politely declines and moves on.
Joey fares well in unlikely situations, and although the stylized small-town language (where a lot of sentences seem to have words missing) feels a little cumbersome at some points in the novel, this book presents a compelling, positive image of just what manhood can be. Most of all, in challenging times. “The only opinion you should be concerned with is your own.” Coyote is dreaming a man’s world that seems more inclusive than the workaday patriarchy looks from the outside. And there is nothing wrong with that. To each their own. Or, in this case, to each his own.âe”Meagan Perry