Bill Gaston | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Bill Gaston

Bill Gaston writer and teacher (born at Flin Flon MB, 1953). After graduating from the University of British Columbia with an MFA Gaston "fooled around with words" while working alternately as a logger, fishing guide, and semi-professional European Hockey player before committing to a writer's life.

Bill Gaston writer and teacher (born 14 January 1953 in Tacoma, Washington). After graduating from the University of British Columbia with an MFA Gaston "fooled around with words" while working alternately as a logger, fishing guide, and semi-professional European Hockey player before committing to a writer's life. His work continues to engage with his favoured pursuits, particularly his novel The Good Body (2000) and the memoir Midnight Hockey (2006), which comically regales the reader with the lives of middle aged men longing to be a small part of Canada's passionate pastime, hockey. A disparate group of players aches and strains to exercise what Gaston calls a Canadian instinct, "to push yourself and a puck into a net simply to know the glory of our game." A practicing Buddhist, Bill Gaston's spirituality informs his work; he believes writing should be "well intentioned," helping the reader find their way through the distresses and disappointments of life with humour and insight.

Deep Cove Stories (1984) was Bill Gaston's first, critically acclaimed collection of short fiction, set at British Columbia's Dollarton Beach. Gaston revealed himself to be a writer capable of tempering penetrating insights with the comedy of character peculiarities. He regularly returns to the short story and has become a recognized master of the form. Both the collections North of Jesus' Beans (1993) and Sex is Red (1998) received critical attention. In 2002 Mount Appetite was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and in 2006 Gargoyles was nominated for a Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. Gargoyles examines the nature of life's turning points, each tale building in dramatic depth. Ray, in "Honouring Honey, " is a man experiencing what he believes to be his mid-life hollow years. Externally a man with everything, he feels unmanned by marital, job and social ennui until he decides to kill his ailing retriever. He then announces, "I want to eat his - Don't be upset, it's really not that strange, but I think I'm going to eat his heart." With Gargoyles Gaston reveals aging as a process that lets us see another version of ourselves, if we are willing to look.

Tall Lives (1990), Bill Gaston's first published novel, reveals Gaston as a cutting comic writer skirting the absurd. It presents Siamese twins Frank and Del Baal, joined at the toe. On the day of their birth their father hacks them apart with an axe, yet their lives continue to be tangled and inseparable as they cross paths filled with bizarre characters and curious events. This juxtaposition of humour with the ghoulish, heralded now as Gaston's signature style, developed in The Cameraman (1994) and The Bella Combe Journal (1996). Gaston's Sointula (2004) was shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Prize, within it Gaston contemplates how the natural world provides us with a vital and healing connection as we follow protagonist Evelyn Poole, kayaking the coastal waterways of British Columbia, searching for harmony and resolution in her capsized life. Gaston's Order of Good Cheer (2008) presents the stories of two heroes separated by 400 years of Canadian history: New World explorer Samuel de Champlain and New Age drifter Andy Winslow. Both are in dogged fights against despair and boredom and turn to food to provide companionship and stave off the threatening isolation that relentlessly circles their lives. Champlain creates the Order of Good Cheer (see Ordre de Bon Temps), a "series of banquets with entertainment. That is to rouse the men to a more cheerful humour." Andy reads about Champlain's idea and becomes inspired: "the food alone was reason enough. The Order of Good Cheer North America's first-ever club. Andy had liked reading that "cheer" referred to food and drink." He creates a New Year's feast to seduce a former love back into his life and fill his dilapidated home with noise and good cheer.

In many of Bill Gaston's characters' lives, interior watershed moments bring characters the unexpected, which in equal measures delights and distresses them. Bill Gaston's three dramas Yardsale (1994), Ethnic Cleansing and I am Danielle Steel particularly develop these themes of discovery and balance. Yardsale focuses on male friendship and bonding, and the unexpected impact the process has on the principal characters' other relationships. Gaston has also published a collection of poetry, Inviting Blindness (1995).

Bill Gaston has taught creative writing across Canada and is Chair and Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Victoria. Gaston has served as editor of Canada's oldest literary journal, The Fiddlehead, and in 2002 was awarded the Timothy Findley Prize for a male writer in mid-career. He lives on Vancouver Island.

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