From the Publisher
“Count this wickedly funny and moving novel by a Canadian writer the year’s sleeper. It’s unlikely that anything else will come along that will equal its combination of audacious concept, inspired characterization, frank sexuality, ribald humor and poignant message… Gowdy’s raucous, tender love is a find indeed.” — Publishers Weekly (A Best Book of the Year)
“Mister Sandman displays the same quirkiness, the same mordant sense of humor, the same ear for the vernacular, the same innocent-eyed acceptance of the bizarre, that characterizes her two previous novels…Gowdy surprises and delights; she also—which is rare—gives us the moments which are at the same time preposterous and strangely moving.” — Margaret Atwood, Times Literary Supplement (“Best Books of the Year”)
“One of the strangest—and most heartwarming—paeans to family ties you'll ever read. A+.” — Entertainment Weekly
“ The family at the center of Mister Sandman is uniquely, whimsically dysfunctional. But it is the unexpected birth of Joan Canary, half idiot savant and half changeling, that catalyzes the individual idiosyncrasies and personal secrets of the people around her, melding them into a clan defined by its eccentricity…Joan’s possibly brain-damaged brilliance lies at the heart of both the narrative and the symbolism of this delightfully quirky novel, in which the Canary family’s life emerges as a weird yet often affecting group composition.’” — The New York Times Book Review
“With Mister Sandman, Gowdy will surely join the ranks of Lorrie Moore, Kazuo Ishiguro and other great dark-humored literary beguilers. The novel is a true literary original, a perfectly pitched creation in which story, ideas and authorial voice merge so explosively, so felicitously that the reader feels compelled to exclaim ‘Yes!’ on almost every page.” — L.A. Weekly
“There is an astonishing sensibility in Barbara Gowdy’s Mister Sandman, which bounds, spritelike, into the farthest corners of lunacy while staying tethered to the author’s very real understanding of love.” — Elle (A Best Book of the Year)
“It’s truly a monumentally entertaining, brilliantly constructed novel...Barbara Gowdy is poised to be the next big thing.” — Bloomsbury Review
One of the strangest -- and most heartwarming -- paens to family ties that you'll ever read. A+.
There is an astonishing sensibility in (this novel), which bounds, spritelike, into the farthest corners of lunacy while staying tethered to the author's very real understanding of love.
NY Times Book Review
Joan's possibly brain-damaged brilliance lies at the heart of both the narrative and the symbolism of this delightfully quirky novel, in which the Canary family's life emerges as a weird yet often affecting group composition.
Washington Post Book World
So brilliantly crafted and flat-out fun to read that she makes jubilant sinners of us all.
With Mister Sandman, Gowdy will surely join the ranks of Lorrie Moore, Kazuo Ishiguro and other great dark-humored literary beguilers. The novel is a true literary original.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Count this wickedly funny and moving novel by a Canadian writer the year's sleeper. It's unlikely that anything else will come along that will equal its combination of audacious concept, inspired characterization, frank sexuality, ribald humor and poignant message. When 15-year-old Sonja Canary, a sweet girl but a dim bulb, becomes pregnant after her sole sexual encounter, her parents-jittery, ditsy but wily Doris, and kind, mild-mannered but emotionally tormented Gordon-decide to declare the baby their own. When Joan is born, however, a series of bizarre circumstances-including a fall on her head-suggest that she is the reincarnation of a woman who committed suicide. It soon becomes obvious that Joan is brain-damaged but also preternaturally gifted. A dwarf, with gossamer hair and a ghostly complexion, Joan hides in a closet all day and never speaks, but she communicates by mimicking the sounds she hears (the click of a refrigerator door, an envelope ripping, a zipper); by playing the piano with remarkable skill; and by secretly audiotaping her family's hidden activities and desires. For it turns out that Gordon is gay and has had a relationship with the "orange haired giant'' who is also Joan's father; Doris discovers that she is a lesbian; and their younger daughter, Marcy, is sexually promiscuous. Ironically, Joan operates as a reincarnating spirit on the Canarys, allowing them to find and express their true identities. This undeniably strange saga is related in beautifully polished prose shot through with witty asides, startlingly poetic images and a series of hilarious scenes that beg to be read aloud. After demanding complete faith from the reader, Gowdy's zany imagination succeeds in making improbable adventures seem logical, true and touching. For all their eccentricity and sexual waywardness, the Canarys are a family whose love for each other is palpable. Named "Book of the Year'' by Margaret Atwood in the Times Literary Supplement, Gowdy's (Falling Angels) raucous, tender novel is a find indeed. (Apr.) FYI: Booksellers can get advance galleys of Mr. Sandman by calling 800-639-7140.
The Canarys are not your typical family. Gordon and Doris are the parents of Marcy and Sonja, who at the age of 15 is pregnant with Joan. As Joan is born, she is dropped on her head, and the resulting brain damage turns her into an idiot savant. Gordon has affairs with men while Doris approaches other women. Marcy loses her virginity during her teens and then proceeds to have numerous affairs with men, usually sleeping with two or three at a time. Sonja stays at home, eating a lot and knitting, while Joan learns to read yet never speaks and avoids strangers and daylight. She serves as the group consciousness and mutely listens as each family member confides his or her various quirks and thoughts. Solidly written, this thought-provoking, challenging novel by a Canadian writer with a story collection and two previous novels to her credit is recommended for large fiction collections.Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., Ohio
The jacket copy for the Canadian novelist Barbara Gowdy's Mister Sandman calls it "a modern-day parable," and unfortunately, it is. I'm not a big fan of the grotesque mixed with the whimsical, especially when strangeness is used to gussy up a tale that only adds up to quaint homilies about the healing power of love and acceptance. Mister Sandman comes to the States with extraordinary praise, however. Margaret Atwood picked it as one of the "books of the year" in the Times Literary Supplement, and the current, controversial film "Kissed" is based on a Gowdy short story.
Gowdy's heroine is the pixie-sized idiot savant Joan. Brain-damaged as a result of being dropped at birth, Joan, who doesn't speak but communicates through an array of echolalic sounds, is a piano prodigy, a voracious reader, a maker of experimental sound collages and Gowdy's compact little plot device. Stowed away in the closet where she prefers to spend her days, she's the repository of the family secrets. She knows that both her parents are gay (though closeted), and is aware of her older sister Marcy's prodigious love life. She even has a secret herself: She's actually the daughter of her eldest "sister," Sonja, but she's passed off as the child of Doris, her grandmother.
Gowdy's greatest asset is that she's not fazed by weirdness. Early on, Doris hatches a scheme to get the money for Sonja's pregnancy by appearing on the '50s sob-sister sweepstakes "Queen for a Day" and telling a story to beat them all. Of the other contestants waiting to go on the show, Gowdy writes, "Either they were world class impostors, every one of them, or [Doris] shouldn't be there. She joined the line anyway. A long wait on hot pavement during which she thought of the men on the Titanic who had dressed up in turbans and fake stoles and too-small pointy high heels ..."
Gowdy isn't a faker like Doris. She genuinely seems to see the world in deeply weird terms that she takes on faith. But that doesn't stop her brand of weirdness from veering perilously close to the John Irving variety, lying in wait to spring its conventional meaning on us. It's a crookedly stitched sampler proclaiming, to borrow a phrase from Inspector Clouseau, "It's all a part of life's rich pageant." --Charles Taylor
Read an Excerpt
Joan Canary was the Reincarnation Baby. Big news at the time, at
least in the Vancouver papers. This is going back, 1956. Joan was that
newborn who supposedly screamed, "Oh, no, not again!" at a pitch
so shrill that one of the old women attending the birth clawed out
her hearing aid. The other old woman fainted. She was the one who
grabbed the umbilical cord and pulled Joan head-first onto the floor.
Joan's mother, Doris Canary, attributed everything to the brain
damage. Joan's inability to talk it goes without saying, but also her
reclusiveness, her sensitivity to light, her size, her colouring ... you
name it. Joan's real mother, Sonja Canary, attributed everything to
Joan's past-life experiences. Sonja was there for Joan's famous first
cry, and it's true she had thought it was one of the old women
screaming, "Flo! Flo! She's insane!" but that didn't make any sense
because the woman who could have screamed it had throat cancer.
If Joan was either brain-damaged or reincarnated, Sonja preferred
reincarnated. She would, being the real mother.
To be fair, though, there was something unearthly about Joan.
She was born with those pale green eyes, and the hair on her head,
when it finally grew in, was like milkweed tuft. That fine, that white.
And look how tiny she was! Nobody in the family was tiny.
Nobody in the family was anything like her, her real parents least
of all. Sonja was fat, and had dark brown corkscrew hair and
brown eyes. The real father was an orange-haired giant, eyes a flat
creamy blue like seat-cover plastic. He had remarkably white skin,
and Joan did, too, but without the freckles, pimples and hair.
Flawless. Joan was flawless. Another way of saying not like any of
them. Sonja, of course, went further, she said that Joan was not of
this world, and it drove Doris Canary crazy. Baloney! Doris said.
Brain-damaged, brain-damaged, brain-damaged! she said. Face it.
Ask the neurologists.
Doris even told strangers that Joan was brain-damaged. Her
husband, Gordon, never publicly contradicted her but he winced
and sighed. "It's the truth," Doris would say then, as if normally she
wasn't a brazen liar. As if Gordon had ever agreed with the
brain-damaged diagnosis let alone that you could point to anything
and call it the truth. "The truth is only a version" was one of his
(Which Sonja heard as "The truth is only aversion" and, although
she had no idea what it meant, automatically quoted whenever the
subject of truth was raised.)