MOUNT APPETITE by Bill Gaston (Raincoast), 221 pages, $19.95 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
bill gaston knows his quirky characters well. Really well. In Mount Appetite, his latest short-story collection, the Victoria-based writer reveals his strong suit -- central figures driven to seek something more appealing and intense than what life has dealt them.The best pieces deal with a naive man who has a healing touch, a beer taster with a palate that may be too refined, and a drunk who fantasizes about picking up a policewoman at a highway spot-check. In all of them there's a sense of the intensity and unrecognized feelings that lie behind what's actually said.
In fact, the more mysterious the characters and the more they're unaware of truths they speak or live, the more appealing they are.
Too bad some of these figures travel down predictable paths in stories that are overlong, like the pothead in the title story who tries to regain control of his daughter, taken away by the authorities.
The writing is crisp even in the less successful pieces, and occasionally -- as in the one about a fish scientist whose personal life uncannily parallels her attempts at cod-breeding -- a poetic touch marks the prose, as Gaston plays a little more obviously with language. He's got the skill to do it, and the result adds an extra dimention to his troubled characters.