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Gargoyles

by Bill Gaston

The image of the gargoyle that presides over the 12 stories in this compelling and highly original collection by Giller-nominated author Bill Gaston is an apt one. The stony fixity of the gargoyle is akin to the stubborn, emotionally determined voices that tell their stories even in the face of an audience that often seems determined not to listen. What we have here is a failure to communicate.

Gaston’s world is full of people with something to say, but without anyone to say it to. In the story “Honouring Honey,” a schoolteacher tries to tell his wife how he plans to commemorate the death of the family dog. She doesn’t want to hear – and given the planned ceremony’s macabre perversity, few readers would blame her. But this leads only to the teacher’s frustration, rendered in a wheedling repetition that captures the insistence of natural speech: “Please just listen to me. You never listen to me. Just listen, okay?”

The reluctant audience is a recurring motif. In “The Gods Take Off Their Shirts,” the narrator attempts various delaying tactics to avoid hearing the “sort of a proposition” his old friend is about to make. In the surreal and self-reflexive “A Work-in-Progress,” an audience rebels in the face of a particularly egregious reading by a visiting author. The French youth in “Freedom” can’t get anyone to understand his earnest pidgin American, with tragic results.

Is there something of the plight of the author in all of this? How could there not be? But this is by the way. Though Gaston occasionally overplays his hand in their construction, these stories demonstrate a remarkable range of subject matter and tone. Gaston shows a keen appreciation of the universal need not only to express ourselves, but to be understood.