David W. Berner’s novella Sandman (2022) is ostensibly about golf. And there’s plenty of golf-related detail: descriptions of foulmouthed greenskeepers and stern caddie-masters, numbers-obsessed amateur players and pushy parents hovering on the sidelines. But like all good stories, Sandman is two stories in one: a story about golf and a story where golf becomes a metaphor for life.
To a greater degree than many other sports, golf is played both recreationally and competitively; golf is also more elitist than most other sports. These two dichotomies structure the trajectories of the two protagonists. Jimmy and a young unnamed American boy, growing up decades apart, face the same basic question: Do they want to win (or suck up to winners), or do they want to enjoy the game? The novella’s episodes are cleverly arranged so that, though these two protagonists never meet, the wisdom one acquired in a faraway land passes on to the other.
Sandman is structured as a double mystery. There’s the mystery of what happened to Jimmy the Old Elm vagrant on the day in the present which furnishes the novella’s frame story; there’s also the mystery of how Jimmy ended up in this life: a semicrazed homeless man living on charity. Travelling fluidly between past and present, between a focus on Jimmy and a focus on the unnamed boy, the narrative suggests that the answer to both mysteries is the same. As Sandman closes, Jimmy is discovered exactly where he meant to end up.
Full of colourful characters, from insufferable amateur players to snitchy caddies, and vivid descriptions of the sights and sounds of various golf-courses, Sandman is a book you’ll read quickly but remember long afterwards.
Thank you to the writer for an ARC. An interview is forthcoming.