297 pages
ISBN 1-55013-606-2
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Burke Cullen

Burke Cullen teaches English at the University of Toronto.


Refashioning in a postmodernist vein a brief but intense episode of B.C.
history, Shoot! is both a good story and a compelling discourse on the
nature of stories—real and legendary. Shoot! succeeds where many
postmodern experiments in narrative fall short, by mining the rich ore
of a ready-made wilderness tale. The infamous “Wild McLeans” were a
gang of four young outlaw “half-breeds” from the Kamloops area
(three McLean brothers and Alex Hare), who, in the late 1870s, wreaked
havoc on the district and eventually were captured, tried, and hanged
for the murder of the local Justice of the Peace. These few
facts—ingredients enough for a good “western”—have generated a
century’s worth of mostly sensationalized tales and sagas (Mel
Rothenburger’s book is an exception), and while Bowering does not
squander the action/adventure potential, neither does he make it the
novel’s exclusive focus. Instead, Shoot! exploits and explores the
richer potential of the Wild McLeans’ “borderland country,” a
literal and discursive ground where white and Native cultures and
worldviews collide. On one level, Bowering presents the gang as fated
products of the borderland collision: their destiny is the consequence
of being the “half-breed” children of bigoted Europeans and
marginalized Natives. What they wage war against is an inherently
contradictory and hypocritical reality. Yet on another level the
characters develop alongside a Native legend with which the novel opens,
a legend paralleling the McLean brothers’ own lives, in which three
brothers are “doing their best to change things.” This is the
borderland of “stories,” whereupon the novel not only challenges the
authorized versions of the McLean history (most of which opt to skip
over these “disgraced” outlaws) but also raises—by virtue of its
multiple viewpoints and voices, shifts in space and time, and ironic
narrative “I/eye”—the fundamental epistemological question about
wilderness history and legend: “What’s the difference?” In Shoot!
if there is a difference, it only underscores the enigmas of the McLean
brothers and Alex Hare, who spawned their legend on the fractured facts
of their dark origins and darker destinies.


Bowering, George., “Shoot!,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 1, 2022,