In his debut novel, poet Jim Nason, writing with dignity and wit, takes an unusual look at suffering and dying.
Tony Pearce is an imposing presence, but in his carnivalesque world-turned-upside-down, he perceives himself as small and invisible. As he attends to his work he mentally "cleans house," exploring childhood memories and his grief and guilt surrounding his younger brother Stephen's death at the hands of his violent and mean-spirited stepfather. Tony learns through the courage of his clients, and ultimately emerges with grace and humour as an emotionally daring and sexually adventurous man.
Some chapters are introduced by a voice from the 1950s: housekeeping tips from Mrs. Neatson's Easy Steps to Domestic Bliss for the Busy Housewife. These tips, with their surreal tone of glamour and richness, run parallel with the real-life survival needs of the novel's characters: an elderly, crippled man living with his drug-dealing grandson; a demented drag queen about to get evicted from his apartment; a mother holding the hand of her dying son as she reflects on her youth and her lost lover.
Suggested Book Club Questions for The Housekeeping Journals
- What issues related to the delegation of domestic chores are being explored in this novel?
- Who is your favourite character in the novel, why?
- Discuss Tony’s role as an outsider and his struggle for self-acceptance.
- There are various scenes in the novel that involve stage lighting – what is the significance of this?
- What does Tony’s statement “ ... live with your body and roses” imply?
- Do you think that Tony continues to follow the “12 Steps of A.A. Recovery” throughout the novel – what do you think of this as a literary device?
- There is a great deal of loss in the novel – is anything recovered?
- Relationships between mothers and sons are important to the novel – which two characters speak most directly to these relationships.
- The relationship between Tony and Chantel Beauregard is key to the novel – psychologically speaking, what does the D- on his term paper signify to Tony?
- Tony is exposed to the complex lives of many people in need – what do you think is in it for him? Is he a martyr or self-serving?
- Maman Leblanc seems to accept her son for who he is – as a reader, have you learned anything you didn’t know about HIV/AIDS or addiction?
- There is a class dynamic that is particularly evident between Christine and Tony – how do you think this moves the plot of the novel along?
- Tony enters the lives of many others – do you think the positioning of these encounters in the novel is important?
- Does Tony have a ‘victim’ mentality?
- Who is your favourite homemaker? Why?
- Many of the encounters that the characters in the novel experience are short-lived – do you think this would reflect real-life experiences of those in the ‘helping professions?
- Tony’s mother seems somewhat absent – is this normal for a woman of her generation? How does this tie-in to various other themes of domesticity explored in the novel.
- What do you think Mrs. Neatsons’ seemingly superficial points have to say to the chapters that they introduce?
- What does Tony’s new tattoo mean to him?
- What questions are you left pondering about at the end of the last chapter?
Jim Nason is the author of two books of poetry: The Fist of Remembering and If Lips Were as Red. He Studied at McGill, Ryerson, and York Universities. A social worker who has worked with marginalized populations, Nason has also taught creative writing. His stories and poems have been published in numerous journals and anthologies in Canada and the United States. He lives in Toronto.