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.
About the Author
Katherine A. Powers received the 2013 Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. She is the editor of Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942–1963.