Mister Sandman

By BARBARA GOWDY

First published in 1995, Mister Sandman is a fine specimen of Gowdyism: an idiosyncratic amalgam of the fantastic and everyday shot through with dark but kindly humor. Here are the members of the Canary family of Toronto in 1956: Gordon, a gentle beanpole of a man who recently found love, as he thought, with a maintenance man (“an orange-haired giant, eyes a flat creamy blue like seat-cover plastic”); Doris, his tubby wife, a compulsive and gifted liar in love with Harmony La Londe (“a lesbian Negro career woman who wore see-through negligees and had painted her apartment to match her parrot”); Sonja, the couple?s even tubbier 15-year-old daughter, sweet, a trifle dim, and — whoops — pregnant by her father?s lover; Marcy, a kindergartener and nascent nymphomaniac; and Joan, Sonja?s newborn, heard to scream, “Oh, no, not again!” at birth — after which she was dropped on her head and never spoke another word. Mute, beautiful, and forever tiny, Joan, it emerges, is a musical genius and the mysterious center of this menagerie and the story. Gowdy?s writing is an intoxicating mixture of homely expression and brilliantly surreal characterization (“the car didn?t have a scratch and it cruised along as smoothly and quietly as a car sailing over a cliff”). The story darts ahead and back, appearing from all points of view, bringing us closer and closer to its denouement, which, bizarre though it truly is, amounts to a celebration of love.

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