‘Juliet Was a Surprise’ book review
By Joshua Grant, Senior Columnist
It’s hard to know what to make of the oddball protagonists in Bill Gaston’s latest collection of short stories compiled under the title Juliet Was a Surprise. They’re undeniably compelling, but simultaneously disturbing, pathetic, or at least slightly deranged. This isn’t so bad. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In “At Work in the Fields of the Bulwer-Lytton,” an ice-rink manager labours over entries to the Bulwer-Lytton worst sentence contest while his sister threatens suicide; in “House Clowns,” a middle-aged loner overreacts (severely, violently) to the double-booking of his holiday cabin; and in “Any Forest Seen From Orbit,” a virginal arborist is seduced by desperate housewife Juliet, with maiming results.
This is all rendered in dense and twisted prose, demonstrating Gaston’s ear for sound and image. As the lonely arborist considers Juliet’s attitude towards a ruptured pipe, he thinks: “I find not unsexy those women who own up to their own dirt, as it were. Not throw it crassly in your face, but smile in admitting they do indeed poop.”
The collection is also a (rare) good piece of Canadiana. Characters appear in Canadian locales, with Canadian props and attitudes. One story, “Geriatric Arena Grope,” hinges on national hero Leonard Cohen’s sexual reputation. It’s not easy to write about Canada and remain interesting, but Gaston does a stellar job.
Juliet Was a Surprise, stuffed to bursting with dark laughter, is certainly worth a read for anyone interested in short fiction, Canadiana, or the imaginative use of language.