Not All the Colours of a Human’s Personality are Bright | Review of “Juliet Was A Surprise” by Bill Gaston (2014) Hamish Hamiliton

We try to associate bright colours to human personalities when we first encounter them but in reality the whole colour spectrum belongs to the make up of inner thoughts and desires to an individual. We meet somebody and note their happiness brings flashes of yellow to our mind but later realize their passions push themselves to a burning red. At what would we perceive as a thoughtful person would bring images of green to our mind but later we would realize that their over-thinking of issues would bring on a dark blue of melancholia. And we all know about the shades of greys and blacks that colour our inner desires and fears that we would never admit to another soul. This is, in short, the realizations that Bill Gaston has his characters come to find in his excellent collection of short stories called Juliet Was A Surprise.

Page 10-11 House Clowns

“We can be your house clowns.” Eden put her hands to her head like antlers and swayed back and forth, big-eyed and unsmiling. Her eyes were playful but ironic and – he didn’t know why he thought of the word – literate. But still possibly dangerous. There weren’t two bedrooms, there were three. None were giant. Anybody, especially any woman, knows exactly how many bedrooms they are renting. Vacationing renters don’t hitch-hike. They just don’t.

He didn’t think sleep was in the cards, and he was right. He lay staring at the ceiling, blinking rapidly if he blinked at all. They didn’t want him phoning the McGregors. They had no food, no car to go get some. It felt portentous for someone as handsome as Adam to dress like that. Even if – even if they were just a couple of hippies looking for vacant houses to crash in, as a kind of lifestyle, well, what kind of wimp was he? Why let himself be bullied like this?

Gaston is able to describe elements of the human condition in this book that seem to exist of the periphery of our day-to-day observations yet remain unnoticed until now. His prose is simple and easy to understand. Yet the scenes he creates are both familiar and surreal which makes his stories fascinating to read.

Page 36-37 Cake’s Chicken

 . . .(B)ecause they weren’t the brightest lights, Danny and Cake. In my last year of high school, I remember being attracted to their clique of two. I was a loner, still am, and I was probably drawn by their friendship, the friendship they had for each other, ugly as it was. Danny was tall, a jock without a team, a guy who maybe could have done okay in school if he’d cared. He was wry and acidic before irony became the norm. When he smiled, his eyes didn’t, and he was had to like. As for his buddy, if Cake was smart he hid it well. He was big too but sloppier, with a gut. I assumed he was called Cake because of that, but then I learned his last name was Baker, so who knows. Cake didn’t seem to care about his nickname, or anything else. He “like to have a good time,” he said, which is maybe odd because I don’t recall once ever seeing him laugh. He looked vaguely Asian, or maybe Mexican, and even slightly retarded, which is the word we used then. Rumour said he got violent without much reason. Probably I liked them because “not giving a shit about anything” looked like a bona fide wisdom you couldn’t quite do yourself. Anyway, whatever magnetism worked then wouldn’t now. Cake’s dead and I don’t like where Danny ended up.

These aren’t  stories  that should be rush through. Consideration to every phrase and scene should be given to fully understand the situations Gaston describes. In doing so, a reader completely becomes involved with Gaston’s protagonist and becomes enlightened about human interactions more and more. This is what great literature is suppose to do.

Page 81 Tumpadabump

So she must understand him. It is funny that she does not know if he was funny. “Funny” being such a funny word. Maybe he was funny spelled w-e-i-r-d. Maybe she still does not know what funny is over here. Sometimes Bill’s small remark would make everyone laugh except her, or sometimes she was the only one to laugh. Maybe it was a French truc. In fact he often cold remind her of a Frenchman. An old, typically clear-headed yet twisted man, a philosopher in the way all old Frenchmen are, islands unto themselves and always right despite the ocean of evidence to the contrary. It is true, his irony could grate. Once he  quoted to her, “Irony is the sound of a bird in love with its cage,” an image so self-knowing it made her forgive everything. He was being ironic, of course.

Juliet Was A Surprise by Bill Gaston explores the different natures of the human condition. It may be a bit simplistic to apply colours to human psyches but that is why novels are written to help us understand their different “shades.”  

Link to Hamish Hamilton’s page for Juliet Was A Surprise

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