Mister Sandman

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.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.