A Short Sad Book (it is fairly short, but I don't find it sad—on the contrary) sets forth, in an atmosphere of fantasy and parody, some of Bowering's views; introduces various fictional or "real" characters; and tells a series of little fables that involve Tom Thomson, D. H. Lawrence, Al Purdy, and several others.
Bowering speaks directly to his readers and tells us, among other things, that from early youth he has had difficulty dealing with the idea of Canada—in adolescence, apparently, he yearned to be an American. Now, in his forties, he appears to be at home in Canada but not entirely at home with Canadian culture. At one point he tells us: "Canadian literature is a lot like a bank. It has Group of Seven paintings all over the wall and it is always lockt up at night."…
For Bowering, clearly, A Short Sad Book is a way of settling some scores, a collection of in-jokes and puns, a defence of the Black Mountain school of poetry that helped shape him, a series of gentle pokes at his friends—and something more: a comic meditation on the nature of Canadian literature as opposed to literature in Canada, mixed with an inquiry into some of the links between fiction and reality. Whatever he intended, he carries it off with a fine absurdist technique and a certain shy sense of style.
Robert Fulford, "Bowering, Me, and the Robertian Conspiracy," in Saturday Night (copyright © 1978 by Saturday Night), Vol. 93, No. 3, April, 1978, p. 14.