GARGOYLES by Bill Gaston (House of Anansi), 251 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
I felt like the lone ambivalent reader in book-nerd land after the storm of praise that greeted Bill Gaston's Giller-shortlisted story collection, Mount Appetite. It didn't really astonish me.
But four pages into Gaston's new collection, Gargoyles, I suddenly understood. Every word in the Victoria-based author's sixth book is precise and perfect. He layers so much in 15 pages that, once you've finished a story, you feel as if you've absorbed a novel's worth of thoughts and images. His technical ability is matched by his humour and insight.
In the opening story, Forms In Winter, a father haunted by his son's death seeks out parents of runaway kids to warn them of the danger of being too punitive. Title track Gargoyles is a unique, rich story told from the point of view of the complacent son of an aging architect. His father removes all the doors and windows of his own suburban home, much to the displeasure of his wife.
A disquieting look at a father's midlife crisis, Honouring Honey focuses on his obsession with killing his sick dog and eating its heart as a tribute to love. The Kite Trick is a slow-building, deceptively light-hearted tale about a child's love for his aging rock-star uncle. (I'll stop before I spoil the perfect ending.)
Thematically, Gargoyles stays true to its title. The characters are often ugly and on the brink of meltdown, examining or choosing not to examine their own moral cores.
Gaston never indulges in gore for the sake of shock or in sentimentality. His stories are biting, with quirky characters who seem full-blooded but somehow contorted, like gargoyles themselves.