Mister Sandman


268 pages
ISBN 1-895897-54-8
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is an associate editor of the Canadian Book Review


In Barbara Gowdy’s weird and wonderful fictional universe, abnormality
is the norm. Mr. Sandman, her third novel, chronicles the hilarious
misadventures of the gloriously dysfunctional Canary family.

The story opens in 1956, with the birth of Joan. A fall on her head
post-delivery leaves the infant mute but able to reproduce nonverbal
sounds with uncanny accuracy. Although Joan’s biological mother is
Sonja, a clueless and kind-hearted 15-year-old obsessed with knitting
and food, she is raised as the child of her grandparents, Gordon and
Doris, both of whom are caught up in same-sex love affairs that are by
turns exhilarating and terrifying. Rounding out the clan are Marcy, who
is as sexually precocious as her older sister Sonja is naive, and
Doris’s mother, the contented resident of a damp basement that serves
as a breeding ground for mold, mushrooms, and frogs. At the novel’s
conclusion, the Canary family secrets stand revealed, thanks to the
brilliant handiwork of the idiot savant, Joan.

This deliriously inventive and humor-filled novel is informed by a
compassion and humanity that prevents its characters from coming across
as mere freaks. As Diane Arbus did with her photographs, Barbara Gowdy
challenges her audience to rethink conventional notions of
“normality” and “abnormality.” Underlying the inspired lunacy
that has become this author’s trademark is an eloquent plea for


Gowdy, Barbara., “Mister Sandman,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1377.