Author: B.S. Johnson
Publication Date: 1971
Page Length: Approximately 222 pages (exact page number unavailable)
House Mother Normal by B.S. Johnson is a thought-provoking and immersive novel published in 1971. This work of fiction delves into the lives of elderly residents residing in an assisted living facility, providing a unique perspective on aging, memory, identity, and the inherent complexities of human relationships.
House Mother Normal comprises a single day in the life of the characters residing in St. Christopher and St. Jude's Home for the Aged, a home for elderly individuals facing a range of physical and mental challenges. The narrative is divided into twelve sections, each offering glimpses into the minds and experiences of the residents as well as the titular house mother.
Section 1: "6 am - 7 am"
The book opens with the introduction of the central character, the house mother, who is responsible for the well-being of the residents. The morning routine ensues, highlighting individual residents' characteristics and living situations, such as Miss Fulleras, aggressively defensive of her privacy.
Section 2: "7 am - 8 am"
The breakfast scene unfolds, illustrating the unique interactions and relationships among the residents. Johnson delves into the thoughts and memories of Mrs. Peterson, reflecting on her past life and the inherent loneliness she experiences in her present reality.
Section 3: "8 am - 9 am"
In this segment, we encounter more of the residents and their thoughts during their daily exercise routine. The narrative focuses on Mrs. Downing, revealing her struggles with memory loss and her yearning for human connection.
Section 4: "9 am - 10 am"
As the day progresses, we are introduced to Mr. and Mrs. Bell, an elderly couple reminiscing about their past and revealing the emotional complexities of long-term relationships. The idea of love's endurance amid aging becomes a central theme.
Section 5: "10 am - 11 am"
The story delves into the mind of Mr. Driscoll, a resident suffering from dementia. Through fragmented and distorted thoughts, we witness his struggle with grasping his identity and living in the present.
Section 6: "11 am - 12 pm"
Mrs. Johnson is highlighted in this segment, shedding light on the importance of personal possessions to the older generation and their connection to memories and identity. A discussion between Mrs. Johnson and the house mother provides insight into the challenges faced by both residents and staff.
Section 7: "12 pm - 1 pm"
Mr. Wishart, an aging man with a rebellious streak, takes the spotlight. His strong desire for independence drives his interactions with the house mother, as he attempts to assert self-determination in an environment that restricts it.
Section 8: "1 pm - 2 pm"
Johnson explores the character of Mrs. Patterson, who struggles with severe memory loss. Her jumbled thoughts and confusion emphasize the fragility of memory and its role in shaping our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
Section 9: "2 pm - 3 pm"
A visit from two children, Pamela and Ronald, brings joy and excitement to the residents. The intergenerational interaction highlights the different perspectives on aging and reinforces the importance of human connection in combating feelings of isolation.
Section 10: "3 pm - 4 pm"
This portion centers on the character of Mrs. Gerhard, an artistic woman grappling with declining physical and mental abilities. Through her love for painting, she finds solace and expresses her longing for freedom and creativity.
Section 11: "4 pm - 5 pm"
Mrs. McKinley, known for her rebellious nature, becomes the focus here. The narrative explores her resistance to authority and her struggle in adapting to her confined living situation.
Section 12: "5 pm - 6 pm"
As the day draws to a close, House Mother Normal reflects on her role and responsibilities, contemplating her own purpose and ability to make a difference in the lives of the residents. The novel concludes with a poignant reminder of the universal journey toward death.
House Mother Normal explores various themes relevant to the human condition. Aging, memory, identity, love, and the impact of societal and institutional structures are prominent throughout the narrative. Johnson deftly portrays the complexities and struggles faced by the elderly, shedding light on their inner lives and the challenges they confront daily.
This novel serves as a compassionate exploration of the elderly experience and offers valuable insights into the realities of aging, memory loss, and the importance of human connection. By immersing readers into the inner worlds of the characters, House Mother Normal encourages empathy and a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the elderly population. B.S. Johnson’s innovative narrative structure challenges conventional storytelling and provides a profound examination of the human condition.