The Gull Workshop by Larry Mathews

In The Gull Workshop, his second collection of short fiction, Larry Mathews offers up thirteen fiendishly inventive stories brimming with irreverence and comic energy. Mathews generally sets these tales of modern angst in a here-and-now that closely resembles the world as we know it, but often with a playful twist of weirdness that can catch the reader off guard or leave his characters scratching their head. 

The Gull Workshop is classic Larry Mathews.”

A prime example is the title story, in which a small group of older men from the community have signed up for a “Gull Workshop,” even though they don’t know what it entails and are none the wiser after a lengthy discussion with their enigmatic facilitator on precisely that question. In “The Death of Arthur Rimbaud,” the renowned French poet has without explanation turned up in a small community in rural Canada, where he’s renting a house and living on his own. The narrator reports this in breezy, matter-of-fact terms, even though some of the details, as he readily admits—such as Rimbaud’s birth date of 1854 making him over 150 years old—are “hard to swallow.” 

Other stories tackle obsessive behaviours. In “Brick,” Vince and Isabel (“Canadian snowbirds”) regularly winter in Florida, and all is going well until one morning Vince discovers a patio brick out of alignment at the edge of the property, repositioned in a way that can only mean one thing: human intervention. Over subsequent days and weeks, as the same brick is repeatedly tampered with, Vince engages in a battle of wills with his unseen tormentor. But Mathews is wily, and just when we think we’re reading a story about a man spiralling into madness over a triviality, he broadens the scope of the narrative to plausibly include a shooting at the airport in Fort Lauderdale and Vince’s Christian beliefs. 

Other stories take a sardonic perspective on family tensions (“Brother,” “Garabandal”) and knotty male-female relationships (“The Apocalypse Theme Park,” “What My Wife Says”). 

The collection ends with three delightfully ironic linked stories that skewer academia, among other things, in which our hapless hero, Hanrahan, confronts his intellectual limitations and lack of ambition while searching for a career and something that resembles meaning amidst life’s random chaos. 

Anyone who’s tried it knows comic writing is more difficult than writing for dramatic effect. Mathews carries it off with grace and confidence, seemingly without effort, again and again. And yet, he never seems to be showing off. The Gull Workshop—wise, insightful, wryly observant regarding humanity’s copious foibles and infinite capacity for misunderstanding—is classic Larry Mathews. 

Larry Mathews was born in Montreal, grew up in Ottawa, and was educated at Carleton University (BA and MA) and the University of British Columbia (PhD). He taught at six Canadian universities before joining Memorial University’s English Department, where he taught until his retirement in 2015. He lives and writes in St. John’s with his wife, Claire Wilkshire.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Breakwater Books (May 15 2023)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 224 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1550819739
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1550819731

Ian Colford’s short fiction has appeared in many literary publications, in print and online. His work has been shortlisted for the Thomas H. Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, the Journey Prize, the Danuta Gleed Literary Award, and others. His latest novel, The Confessions of Joseph Blanchard, was the winner of the 2022 Guernica Prize and was published by Guernica Editions in 2023. He lives in Halifax.