978-0-00-648571-1 / 9780006485711

Falling angels


Publisher:HarperCollins Canada / Not Applicable



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About the book:

The angels of Barbara Gowdy's grim first novel are an alcoholic housewife who dropped her first baby over Niagara Falls and Norma, Lou, and Sandy, the three dysfunctional daughters who came later. Presaged by another fatal drop (this time from a suburban roof), Falling Angels spirals back in time to the darkest scenes in the daughters' bizarre childhood. For example, Christmas 1959: the day their obnoxious cousin Mary Jane chose to share a newspaper clipping about the suspicious death of the brother they never knew they had. Or Disneyland 1961: the trip they never took because their violent, lunatic father insisted that they spend their two-week holiday in a homemade bomb shelter in the backyard instead.

Twisted yet poignant, Falling Angels reveals the same fascination with the grotesque that fuels Gowdy's later fiction. Lou's encounter with the neighbourhood psycho boy (who sticks a pencil up her vagina) anticipates the stories of sexual deviance in We So Seldom Look on Love. Her eerie coldness toward the infant boy she babysits and almost kills anticipates the distortion of maternal instinct in Gowdy's spectacular novel about elephants, The White Bone. As unrelenting a catalogue of woe as Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees, Falling Angels also offers up moments of strange, exquisite beauty like Sandy's ride on a dirty old man's back or Lou's vision of her mother as a seagull circling the Falls.

All of these characters are teetering on the edges of normalcy--even the comparatively conventional Sandy (who can't resist sex with balding, married men whose names begin with R). Gowdy's gift is that she brings readers so close to the brink, enabling us to feel compassion for nymphomaniacs and child beaters rather than viewing them from a safe distance. --Lisa Alward

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