MISTER SANDMAN by Barbara Gowdy


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Canadian novelist and storywriter Gowdy (We So Seldom Look on Love, 1993, etc.) continues to indulge her passion for (and remarkable understanding of) those existing on society's fringe--this time in a tale of a massively dysfunctional family with enough neuroses and secrets to keep an army of therapists employed. Joan makes quite an entrance into the Canary family by remarking, ""Oh, no, not again!"" at her birth. The astonished midwife promptly drops her on her head, and as Joan develops into a ghostly, speechless child who lives in her closet, yet who can mimic even the slightest noise, it's this accident at birth that gets the blame. She may not resemble anyone in the family physically, but with her odd habits she's right at home. Grandmother Doris claims her as a daughter, since Joan's real mother Sonja is only 15; Doris is also just discovering, ecstatically, that she's gay. Grandfather Gordon, himself a closet homosexual and no stranger to affairs, had one with the handyman in his office building, a hunk who left him and is later discovered to have had a go with Sonja--and in fact is Joan's father. Then there's Marcy, the older daughter of Doris and Gordon, who believes she's telepathically linked to Joan and thus speaks in the plural whenever either of them is the subject of conversation, but who also grows up to be determinedly promiscuous. Meanwhile, Joan herself, at first contact with a piano, proves to be a musical genius; she's ideally suited to become the family confessor as well, until, after years in the role, she finds a unique way to bring everyone's secrets into the open, all but sacrificing herself to make her family whole. Absurd hilarity is mixed well here with a persistent, gentle probing of family dynamics, and crisply defined situations contribute a bell-like clarity to this affecting and unusual domestic saga as it unfolds.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1581952260
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Steerforth