Review: Son of a Certain Woman by Wayne Johnston


When I read the synopsis of this novel, I was a little taken aback. In a nutshell, Percy Joyce has a genetic disorder that has resulted in oversized hands, feet, lower lip and a port wine stain on his face (yes, that’s apparently the technical term).  

Percy lives with his mother, Penelope, who’s the most beautiful woman to ever grace St. John’s. Before Percy was born, her fiancee, Jim Joyce, left her alone; unmarried and pregnant. To help pay the rent, Penelope has a border live with them: Pops, the science teacher from the high school directly across the street. Also around the house frequently is Medina, who is Jim Joyce’s sister, or Penelope’s almost sister-in-law. Now, here’s where it gets a little freaky. 

– Penelope sleeps with Pops once a month to earn some extra money that’s added to the rent. 
– Penelope is actually a lesbian and desperately in love with her sister-in-law, Medina, who stays over secretly most nights.
– Percy is, like the rest of St. John’s, in love with his mother. 


The stage is clearly set right from the beginning of the book to be a horse of a different colour. 

I really didn’t have any interest in reading this book. 

I haven’t read any of Wayne Johnston’s work, though Colony of Unrequited Dreams is most certainly on my TBR list. Reading the synopsis of this book, I thought, “There’s no way I’m going to relate to anything in this book,” but that’s where I was wrong. Johnston writes these larger-than-life characters (no pun intended.) that seem so outrageous, yet he writes them so simply, so human, that’s impossible not to relate to them. 

No, I haven’t been caught between my boarder and sister-in-law, but I’ve been caught in tricky situations before and I could totally relate to how Penelope was feeling. No, I haven’t had to go to school with the burden of over-sized limbs, but I know what it’s like to lie to make yourself seem more interesting. 

I just loved this book. It was so real, and the storyline was extremely well-crafted. There were no big surprises, but it wasn’t predictable either. There were many times I burst out laughing, which I most certainly wasn’t expecting. There’s a scene at the end of the book that’s hilarious, raunchy, and shocking and I won’t tell you more, but my goodness. Johnston certainly has an imagination.

I was so pleased that I picked up this book and I would urge you to do the same. I would say that this was “unjustly and inexplicably excluded from the Giller Prize shortlist,” but something makes me think that’s been said already…

hoto courtesy of Vicki Ziegler


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