The Good Body

The Good Body

by Bill Gaston

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The Good Body is a triumphant blend of mordant humor and heartbreak. By turns hilarious and poignant, it’s the story of retired pro-hockey ruffian Bobby Bonaduce, who is stubbornly ignoring a disease that may be killing him. Bobby returns to his hometown and scams his way into university in a misguided attempt to redeem his messy past and lay emotional

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The Good Body is a triumphant blend of mordant humor and heartbreak. By turns hilarious and poignant, it’s the story of retired pro-hockey ruffian Bobby Bonaduce, who is stubbornly ignoring a disease that may be killing him. Bobby returns to his hometown and scams his way into university in a misguided attempt to redeem his messy past and lay emotional claim to a son he abandoned 20 years earlier. With this acclaimed novel, Bill Gaston demonstrates yet again that he is one of the best chroniclers of men and sports.

Editorial Reviews

National Post (Canada)
Wonderful...The author has given Bob 'Loose' Bonaduce a fully imagined world to inhabit, and thoughts and emotions you might associate more with a tragic poet...A heartbreaking, funny portrayal of a man who has left the rink but is still struggling to play the game.
National Post
Wonderful.... A heartbreaking, funny portrayal of a man who has left the rink but is still struggling to play the game.
Globe and Mail Toronto
Gentle, humorous, absurd, beautiful, spiritual, dark and sexy. He deserves to dwell in the company of Findley, Atwood, or Munro.
Denver Post
Poignant and bittersweet...a testament to Gaston's skill as a storyteller.
Toronto Globe and Mail
Gentle, humorous, absurd, beautiful, spiritual, dark, and sexy. He deserves to dwell in the company of Findley, Atwood, or Munro.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Rich with humor and poignancy, The Good Body is Gaston's entry to the big leagues.
Orlando Sentinel
The Good Body is a witty, heartbreaking and unpredictable tale, whose fictional charcaters seem to breathe on the page...
Thomas McGuane
A winning, moving book filled with achy humanity and rueful, well-earned humor.
Jim Harrison
Unpredictable, harrowing and engrossing.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although a quick synopsis of Canadian writer Gaston's American debut might sound maudlin--a rootless minor-league hockey player contracts multiple sclerosis and goes home to make peace with the family he's neglected for years--the novel itself is not. Told in finely calibrated prose that captures not only the agonizing eloquence of a body betraying its tenant but the rough-edged mumble of a professional athlete's voice, the novel walks a fine line with certainty and grace. Forty-year-old Bobby Bonaduce keeps mum about his illness, deciding not to retire from hockey in the U.S. and return to Fredericton, Canada, hoping to score sympathy points with Leah Miller, the wife he left 10 years before but never divorced, and Jason, his 20-year-old son with whom he exchanges about four letters every two years. Instead, he enrolls as a graduate student in English at the University of New Brunswick in order to play hockey on his son's team. Neither classes nor family reconciliation go as smoothly as Bobby hopes, and the ensuing mix of hilarity and heartbreak gives the book its sweet, gritty signature. The prodigal student rents a room from a group of young students, becoming close friends with one of them--a wry young woman named Margaret--and, in a clever twist, with Oscar, Leah's current lover. Although the narration dips into a few other characters' minds, Bobby is the star of this show; he confronts his dilemmas with the hopefulness of a child and the bravado of an oncoming truck. A seamless tone (one that isn't "afraid to sing it into sweet words"), a cast of warm, genuine characters and a confluence of unlikely but wholly believable events bring this modern hero to life. (Feb. 16) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An immensely likable first US appearance for Canadian poet and novelist Gaston, who brings to engaging life the black-comic trials and tribulations of a former semipro hockey player contending with multiple sclerosis and (though he'd never call it this) separation anxiety. Out of hockey at 40 and very much deserving his nickname, Bob "Loose" Bonaduce impulsively enrolls at the University of New Brunswick, planning to earn a master's degree in English (he's formally educated and a sometime poet) while reuniting with (and perhaps playing collegiate hockey alongside) his son, Jason. Gaston gives his narrator Bob an agreeable, attractive voice-wry, witty, and not about to be easily impressed-by the hilariously described graduate seminars he attends, the passel of much younger housemates he cohabits with, or the enervating disease that's slowly stalking him. The novel commands a broad range of scenes and effects. Brief flashbacks and terse excerpts from Bob's writing exercises (which rudely fictionalize the lives of various friends and acquaintances) mix seamlessly with the more extensive present action: Bob's hesitant overtures toward both Jason and his mother, Leah, whom Bob abandoned but never divorced; and his bonding with Leah's new mate, Oscar, a beautifully realized secondary character. Even better drawn is Bob himself, fully rounded and most appealing with his rugged fatalism, rough-hewn wit, and genuine love for the boy he walked away from. Jason is, Bob well knows, his best reason for fighting in the creases with MS: "because of this son's existence, life would never be empty." A few rock-music references and bar-hopping bits seem pretty generic, and the closing pages donotrefrain from jerking a few tears, but, hey, if you liked the film Breaking Away, let's say, there's no reason to resist the many charms of Good Body. Yet another good novel from Up North. Canadian fiction is more than coming into its own; it may be the wave of the immediate fictional future.

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Product Details

House of Anansi Press Inc
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Chapter One

Doing seventy, pointing north, window wide open and elbow on the edge. The falling night rushed and pounded the left car like loud flux, like chaos itself Here we go, what's next.

Good to blow out the cloying perfume reek -- yesterday he'd hung a second pine freshener from the rearview, and this morning in the car's enclosed heat he'd snapped its string and tossed it, wincing in the smell. It was like someone had spilled Mr. Clean in the seats. He'd left the old one up and dangling. Drained of scent and almost grey, a cardboard antique, it was a talisman that had come with the car, with him a decade now. Longer than any one person.

The old tree cut-out twirled in the car's night wind. Bonaduce looked higher into the rearview itself, the dark Maine interstate rushing away in the wrong direction, back to his old life. His gut flipped at the notion of steering with this sight alone.

North out of Bangor, five hours to go, there began a whacking on his roof so he pulled over to check things. The autumn cool felt okay on his neck. Stars were out and glaring in this clean air but he had no time for them. Funny how on trips you relax less the closer you get. He stuffed the flapping tarp under a suitcase comer and tightened the bungee cord, thinking he probably should have crammed more of this stuff in the back seat. But he loved using this roof rack, the gypsy load up there straining full, giving him a feeling in his body he could not name. Something like, home was where the car was. Something like, he was free and life was lucky. Loose Bonaduce.

When next he floored it to pass a car, the tightened cord howled in the wind. Hepassed another car and there it was, a shrieking steadiness, loud right over his head. The next time he passed he opened the window, reached up and grabbed the cord, but his grab only changed the tone, upping it an octave. He decided then to hear it not as noise but as a note, and smiled at the possibilities of this, the kind of smile rare to him since he'd heard his news and made his decision.

Playing the bungee cord meant he had to stay at speed, at least eighty for a clean tone. The road slicing the middle of Maine was fine and straight, but when he found himself falling into a downhill curve it took some teeth-clenched cool to keep the speed and the music going. It also cost him two tickets. These he tossed the second the cop was out of sight, for they were American tickets, and he was leaving for good. Between tickets he learned, by pinch, the cord's nearly three octaves. Its lowest notes were lost in the engine's drone, while its highest shriekers, buzzed and thrilled his fingers in a way almost ticklingly sexual. By the time he crossed the border, and got his first Canadian ticket, which he kept, he'd roughed out "American Woman" and "Blue Christmas." He wondered if Jason would like, or even know, either song. He was well into the stupid arena-pleaser, "La Macarena " (he hoped Jason didn't like this one), when up came the lights of the small city he had decided would be home again.

Fredericton, there it was. He could admit he was nervous. The good butterflies. Only amateurs aren't nervous.

When to call Jason, when to announce himself? And would he call Leah at all?

But here he was, Bonaduce back in town, after twenty years. Middle of the night, guitar on the roof, skates in the back, maybe two months' grace in the wallet. In the head, a doctor's news jockeyed for space with his plan.

At passing speed, squinting into the next few months, he hit the city limits, playing on his howling bungee an improvised, humble, speculative tune.

He woke. It was a Monday morning. He knew where he was, even the motel's name.

He did his stretches in front of the window, hanging on to the air conditioner. Okay. So what was all this worry about school? He'd done it before and always got himself over the hump. Ten, fifteen years had passed, so what. He had the way with words. Half Irish, half Italian -- if that didn't make a poet, what did? If it took a while to get the pen looping and the tongue flapping, he could fall back on profs' mercy. Sir, I haven't thought seriously about literature or any of this in, let's see. Haven't really read a serious book in, let me think now.

Sir, it'll take a while to get the brain in game shape.

Start on push-ups today. He dropped to the brown shag, deciding to begin with two reps of thirty, add five more each day. Good it was a Monday. Monday was when you began something. And fall. A fall Monday was when you started school, or training camp, where -- one of his favourite things -- you put on the new uniform and looked down your chest at the unfamiliar colours of your new second skin. You read the upside-down emblem, which in the old days was embossed with heavy luminous thread: Express, Americans, Indians.

The secretary looked decent. Thirty, lanky, henna in the hair, baggy sweater, string of clunky wooden beads. She threw him a little smile while she dealt with two younger types ahead of him. He smiled back, meeting her eye over these kids keeping two adults from doing business. If he was a "mature" student, then by extension these two in front would be immature. Maybe she'd laugh at that.

Profs buzzed through, heads down in sheets of fresh xerox, rolling their eyes at some nuisance or other.

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Meet the Author

BILL GASTON is the author of several much-praised story collections and novels, including Sex is Red, The Good Body, Mount Appetite, and Sointula. Gargoyles was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and won the ReLit Award and the City of Victoria Butler Prize. In 2002, Gaston was a finalist for the Giller Prize (Mount Appetite) and the inaugural recipient of the Timothy Findley Prize, awarded by the Writers’ Trust of Canada. Bill Gaston lives with his wife, writer Dede Crane, and family in Victoria, British Columbia.

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