The first short story I ever read by Bill Gaston was called “Comedian Tire”.
I was a student at Douglas College at the time, and had read almost no Canadian short fiction. I was obsessively working my way through novels by Douglas Coupland, Chuck Palahniuk and Miriam Toews, but I wasn’t sure I really liked short stories.
“Comedian Tire” is about a dude trying to fix his minivan on Vancouver Island while his brother is dying in a hospital on the Mainland. It seemed straightforward, but every time I re-read it I kept picking up little nuances and details I’d missed the time before.
I liked the specificity of the setting. I liked his language and everything in the story felt relevant to my life and experiences. But it also made me work to uncover the meaning, which was something I was unaccustomed to at the time.
The thing I was most impressed by? The opening line reflected the form of the story: “Buddhism says there’s no beginning or end to suffering, so in that sense there’s no beginning or end to this story–which is also about how humour lives in the very heart of suffering, and pops up like a neon clown from its big black box.”
When you reach the end of the story, you realize nothing is resolved for the characters, the minivan still isn’t fixed, and all we get is a bizarre moment of clarity while the main character watches his wife vomit.
(You can read an excerpt of “Comedian Tire” on PRISM international’s website right HERE.)
A few years later I decided to apply for the creative writing program at UVic, and the only name on the faculty list I recognized was Bill Gaston. I thought to myself, Holy shit, I could have a class with Bill Gaston and I could tell him how much I liked that story. But I ended up declaring non-fiction as my major, and in the whole four years I was at UVic I never met him. I had some close encounters, though. One day he came to visit a class to evaluate our teacher, and I was standing in the hallway when he came looking for the classroom.
“Hey, Bill?” I said. “The class is right here.”
“Mhrm, thanks,” he said, and swept right by me.
I saw him around campus all the time, and I continually gave myself pep talks. My friends had classes with him, I knew almost everyone else on the faculty, but he remained a solitary, inapproachable figure, kind of like a Spirit Bear.
I’ve read a lot by Bill Gaston over the past few years. I studied his story “Honoring Honey,” which is about a man who takes his family to a cottage to euthanize their dog, and in the process turns into a fucked up sociopath. I read his novel The Good Body and I started reading his collection Mount Appetite.
Technically right now, Bill is my boss. I pass him in the hallway once or twice a week. I still haven’t introduced myself. A while back I was standing behind him in line at the liquor store and after he left I said to the clerk, “do you know who that was?”
“That was Bill Gaston. The author.”
“Who?” he said.