Just Let Me Look at You

Bill Gaston's biography explores his relationship with his father, a man of extraordinary depth.

Bill Gaston

Bill Gaston's relationship with his father was stormy. Sons clash with fathers, particularly with towering, authoritarian figures like Gaston Senior. Fairly or unfairly, sons look for reasons to rebel, particularly against boring suburban fathers who seem to prize conformity above all else and, fairly or unfairly, sons judge their fathers when they can't handle their booze.

But even a father and son as doomed to clash as Gaston and his father could fish together. When they were shoulder-to-shoulder, joined in shared anticipation and common purpose, gazing at the waves of the Pacific Ocean, they were no longer betrayed by their differences. When Gaston's father dies, this is the memory of his father that he keeps alive.

This is a quiet, meditative and tender-hearted exploration of childhood injury and its legacy across generations. - 2019 RBC Taylor Prize jury

In the years that follow, however, he learns more about his father's relationship with his father. It too was marked by heavy drinking, though it took a much darker turn. What Gaston comes to realize is that the man his younger self had been so eager to judge was in fact capable of near heroic feats of self mastery. As a father of grown sons himself, he acutely feels the wounds he must have inflicted years before by withholding so much he now knows that fathers long for. Returning to the past, Gaston goes back to those times in the boat, and comes to understand his own story anew as he sees his father in a new light.

Warm, often funny and alive to all the ways in which the words for love so often come too late, Just Let Me Look at You captures a father's inexpressible tenderness for a child and the longing he feels when that child becomes a man. (From Hamish Hamilton)

Just Let Me look at You is on the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize shortlist.

The story behind Let Me Look At You

"This is an intimate portrait of my father and, more so, it's a portrait of our relationship, which was fraught. It's very much about something that many people will recognize, which is the strange yearning silence between fathers and sons. Not a lot gets said, but there's much emotion in the background.

This is an intimate portrait of my father and, more so, it's a portrait of our relationship, which was fraught. - Bill Gaston

"This book came about when I came back to the West Coast after 30 years and I was basically given a boat, an old junker, and I started fishing again. Everything was instantly familiar — the look of a salmon, the smell of it. I was thrown back to many long summers spent with my dad fishing... We shared a really strange talent for sitting for eight hours, not saying all that much, but completely passionate about what we were doing. Just sitting there, waiting for a bite. Of course, we're sitting on one of the best places on Earth — out on the water, no human structures to be seen. Sitting there with my dad and being perfectly content, but never saying anything about being completely content and recognizing it only after it's long gone."

Read more in Bill Gaston's interview with The Next Chapter.

From the book

After decades without, I finally bought myself a boat. My dad would approve.

Because of him I grew up on boats. When I was young I fished from them with passion. In my late teens and early twenties I lived most summers on a boat, in small marinas up the coast, starting with Egmont. On Cormorant I fished and guided. I also played lots of soli­taire, partied, and wrote my first two books on board, clunking away on the typewriter as a fluid world moved underneath. 

I loved sleeping aboard, likely for what are narcotic or even return-to-the-womb reasons: a dark enclosure and softly rhythmic motion. After we met, my wife Dede, who knew none of my past, saw me fall into a trance if we happened near a marina. I'd have to study the boats, eyeing their features for those I'd like, wondering if they had a writing table or much of a galley. Lately I check to see if they have downriggers, winch-powered cables that send your cannon ball-weighted lure down to the deeps to troll for salmon. 

Boats are magic. That metal or fibreglass can float is a marvel, one your life depends on. It's not a romantic thought, I feel it in my body. It's easy to find bygone power in the word vessel.

From Just Let Me Look at You by Bill Gaston  ©2018. Published by Penguin Random House.  

Interviews with Bill Gaston

Bill Gaston talks about his new memoir "Just Let Me Look at You: On Fatherhood" 3:49

Other books by Bill Gaston