"In this new collection Gaston's range is so wide, his technique so masterful, his tenderness, humour and intelligence so finely measured that he stops my heart."
A Mariner's Guide to Self Sabotage is populated by the lonely and alienated, holders of secrets, members (or would-be members) of shadowy organizations, screw-ups, joyriders and runaways.
Architects of their own destruction, Gaston's characters provoke an almost mythic response of simultaneous disbelief and recognition, as they painfully, deliberately, stubbornly carve a path for themselves, questioning every turn. Yet somehow, in spite of themselves, they sometimes manage to stumble into peace and even wisdom.
This set of ten cautionary tales showcases Gaston's range and narrative versatility, moving seamlessly from the funny to the poignant to the surprising and absurd. The stories revel in the ironic and contrary, from a vegan working at a fish farm to a man getting his boat fixed the same day he plans to sink it to a man exchanging the keys to his Lincoln for a goat.
Gaston has a gift for making ordinary moments feel transcendent, capturing the everyday to such a precise degree that it becomes universal. A Mariner's Guide to Self Sabotage shows how the sublime sometimes reveals itself in the moments most people would rather put behind them.
Gaston (Juliet Was a Surprise), who received the Canadian Writers' Trust Timothy Findley Award for his body of work in 2002, here collects 10 poignant and varied stories about characters who find reasons not to be happy. Each protagonist is deeply flawed and turns a single bad decision into a train wreck of errors, but each is also suffering from the human condition, and is painfully recognizable. The longer stories, especially "Kiint," a tale of ecoterrorism and two lonely men, and "Drilling a Hole in Your Boat" (from which the book's title is taken), in which a man considers how to successfully orchestrate a secret suicide-euthanasia without invalidating his life insurance, are more satisfying than the shorter ones, which can feel too abrupt. Gaston's writing creates a strong sense of place, particularly with the stories set outdoors on Canada's west coast. These are stories that work best in individual moments, when characters pause to notice their destructive behavior, wondering why they are compelled engage in bridge-burning and acts of cruelty or sheer pointless ego. This collection highlights Gaston's talent for character observation and precise, evocative prose.