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.
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997 Release date: 04/01/1997 Genre: Fiction