Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book Review: Mount Appetite - Bill Gaston

"She can quiet a man like this. He wants only entertainment. He lacks eyes to see what's in the fire: faces hideous or godlike or mirroring any possible mood. He can't hear the tiny marimba of pebbles in waves, or the silence that is their aching measure. Can't parse the accents of smoke, or smell the beach as a charnel ground of clams, the non-stop enormity of this." p31

"Mount Appetite" by Bill Gaston is a collection of stories, tied together by the protagonists' search for something unseen or unknowable. Readers will meet a faith healer who lives in a trailer with a donation box outside; a professional taste-tester who's dying and can't stand his neighbours carrots; a graduate who researches fish, stays with her unfertilized charges while suspecting her husband of infidelity; a brother encounters tragedy on a baseball field.

Gaston's style has a natural, organic flow. This easily lends itself to the description of the landscape, an important aspect of his stories. The stories are diverse, the voices varied, giving the book a freshness that short story collections often lack. He pulls the reader in, almost drowns them in waves of original diction, never letting go until the last page. Each story is a universe, cupped in the hand.

There are so many great lines within this collection "her mouth shaped like a complaint", "fingers tooling in flesh and oil", "The dutiful tides of Indian Arm, the rich, fish-rank croaks of gulls and herons, the smell of shattered cedar, the sacred light in a dewdrop reflecting the sun, the mysterious light in a dewdrop reflecting the moon."

The only frustrating aspect of Gaston's writing is what feels like a lack of resolution. "The Angel's Share" involves Evelyn, a young woman running from the death of her father. While the story has an otherworldly west coast feel to it, the ending feels incomplete. We only dip into the relationship between Evelyn and her father whereas a full swig would have been more helpful in understanding her character. This truncation, this lack of closure occurs in several other stories and is frustrating as the rest of Gaston's works are entirely satisfying.

Rating: 3.5/5

2 comments:

Melanie said...

This is a wonderful review: it makes me want to go get this book right now. I especially love how you describe each story as "a universe, cupped in the hand". Definitely a description that makes me think this will be my kind of short story collection. Thanks for highlighting it!

theduckthief said...

Thanks! I had the honour to take a class with Bill. He is the nicest guy and offered some great advice on writing.