VISIBLE WORLDS by Marilyn Bowering


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Canadian writer Bowering’s second novel (after To All Appearances a Lady, 1990) memorably chronicles the toll taken by wars (the World Wars, Korea, and the Cold War) and random accidents upon three families whose lives sometimes mingle too neatly. Like Pat Barker, Bowering is claiming territory that has long been a masculine preserve: martial battle and its long-term consequences. The story of the three families here, and the events that associate or separate them, begins in Winnipeg in 1960 at a football game. There, Albrecht Storr watches as his childhood friend and neighbor Nate Bone dies. Moving back and forth from the 1930s to the ’60s, various narrators relate the costs of war and linked catastrophes for the families (there’s also a parallel story: that of Fika, a Russian explorer who in 1960 is making her way across the polar icecap to Canada, freedom, and the family she was yanked from earlier by the Nazis). The death of Nate’s sister Lily led him to run away at 12 with a neighbor’s baby; and, in the 1950s, to ’swap— his own deformed baby for another, the deformities a result of medical experiments performed on Nate as a WWII POW; and, in the Korean War, to be branded a traitor. For the Storr family, the two World Wars meant the breakup of a marriage, the death of a German half-sister, and the loss of Gerhard, Albrecht’s twin brother, who while studying in Germany joined the Nazi army, only to die later in a Soviet labor camp. The third family’s two daughters also lose their children under tragic circumstances. Nate returned to Winnipeg in the late 1950s in a Cold War swap, and by 1960 new connections are established to replace those severed by war, death, or infidelity. A narrative high-wire act, as well as a subtle meditation on chance, luck, and inevitability—for all of which war offers the perfect if drastic laboratory.

Pub Date: Aug. 7th, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-019148-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1998