A New Novel by Northwestern Writer David Giuliano Navigates Difficult Territory

By Bonnie Schiedel

David Giuliano’s latest book, The Undertaking of Billy Buffone, started out as non-fiction, stayed in a drawer for years, and then made the move to fiction. Giuliano, who is now retired, says he came to Marathon, Ontario as a minister 30 years ago and discovered the community was struggling to come to terms with the aftershocks of the conviction of a local teacher, Scout leader, Minor Hockey Association president, reeve, and community leader who had assaulted the town’s boys and young men. Giuliano also noticed the number of people who wanted to just move on “because that was all over now.” 

Giuliano, however, wanted to acknowledge the survivors. “Early on, I was trying to write non-fiction about those events and came to the conclusion that really, it’s not my story to tell,” he says. “In the end, this is complete fiction.” The Undertaking of Billy Buffone, published this month by Latitude 46, tells the story of the imaginary northern community Twenty-Six Mile House, local undertaker Billy, Billy’s friend who died at 15, newcomer pastor Catherine, and an unsettling, decades-old secret. 

When Giuliano retired in 2017, he took his manuscript out, looked at it from a fictional approach, and started a more concerted effort, writing and editing every morning until the novel was ready to be submitted to a publisher. “I have always wanted to write fiction and I wanted to write about something that matters,” says Giuliano. 

He also wanted to get a better understanding of how widespread abuse and red flags can go unnoticed or be explained away. “Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book [Talking to Strangers] recently really, really convinced me that it is a human inclination to trust people. And it takes a lot for most of us to even see or understand [that untrustworthy behaviour is happening]. I have probably more sympathy for the people who overlooked it. I have less sympathy for the people who told me, you know, ‘that’s the past, let it go.’”

Giuliano hopes that readers of The Undertaking of Billy Buffone can take away powerful messages. “In a general sort of way, I’d love for people to have an experience of redemption, of healing—an understanding that sometimes takes time and happens in increments,” he says. “That’s probably the most important thing to me. I also hope they take away an openness to more conversation about how we protect young men from predators. And how we keep that conversation in the open… [there] can be a lot of shame involved in that trauma for young men. I’d like it to be a little more okay to talk about.”

The Undertaking of Billy Buffone, to be published April 17, can be ordered at latitude46publishing.com or any bookseller.