In Praise of Bill Gaston
by Tricia Dower
He’s been writing for years, but I discovered
If I were a proper reviewer, I could tell you why the collection captured me so. All I can say is that the characters and the settings were unique and familiar at the same time. The male protagonists didn’t feel at all Mars to my Venus. I enjoyed experiencing how similar their emotions were to my own. The endings were both surprising and inevitable. A few stories had great impact on me: “Kite Trick” is devastating; “The Green House” brought me back to my insensitive childhood with remembered shame; “The Night Window” made me wonder how many times I had unwittingly wounded my children’s hearts.
You probably discovered Bill Gaston years ago. He’s been nominated for the Giller and the Governor General’s Award. He has published five novels, five collections of short fiction, a poetry collection, and a play, and he was the editor of The Fiddlehead once upon a time. He’s a professor of fiction at UVic now. A few days ago I finished his 2004 novel Sointula which will be made into a feature-length film by
CFUV had screenwriter Brian Paisley as a guest on this week’s Monday afternoon arts show (newly named “Wild Orphans” after an Allen Ginsberg poem).
That could sum up the book, too, except it misses the depth to which the novel plumbs the protagonist Evelyn and the empathy with which Gaston portrays her fellow traveller, Peter, and her son, Tom. All three characters are deeply flawed yet worthy. One reviewer described the story as “zany,” a word I would not use. While the characters do things that make you laugh (especially the pitifully ill-prepared Peter), they’re too fragile to be comic and all too real. I’m sure Gaston was a woman in a past life and I suspect he’s a feminist in this one. He drops a load of pain on Evelyn then sets her free with the courage and confidence to know she’ll find her own way.
The book presents a gritty reality of life in the rough. Nothing romantic about it, except for maybe the whales that heave themselves on a rocky beach to scratch, but even they're a little scary. I’ve lived on
Photos: Top, author Bill Gaston (credit ClownBog Studios) and, lower right, screenwriter Brian Paisley who’s on the third draft of his screen adaptation of Gaston’s novel, Sointula.