In the opening scene in the novel, Toussaint returns to one of the homes he’s lived in, the last one where he lived with his mother. Why do you think he goes back to see the damage? What, do you think, is the difference between somewhere you’ve lived and a place you’d call home? We’ve read several books in our club that examine themes of home, family, and place. Which characters (or real people) do you remember being unsettled? Has there been a period of time in your life where you’ve felt unsettled or displaced? How did that experience inform how you move through the world now?
As a child the feeling of impermanence clung to me from the time my father joined a union in Los Angeles (early ‘60s). The union benefits and wages marked our move into the middle-class and a beautiful new home in the suburbs. My first unsettling came the day I stepped off the school bus to see the sheriff tacking a ‘vacate notice’ to our front door. We were being foreclosed. This unsettling happened twice more. My mother -ever the optimist - believing my father’s womanizing and gambling ways were done - was forever scrambling to keep us middle-class. As a young adult - I was able to bury that feeling of being ‘unsettled’ in my career until my boyfriend at the time came home one night and told me he’d just put an offer on a house - he was moving and did not want me with him when he did so. Needless to say, I was unsettled and devastated. I picked myself up - with the help of my older sister with her own “snap out of it!” moment. I moved in with my sister, went back to my well-paying job and saved money like there was no tomorrow. In fact there was -- I bought my own home in Baldwin Hills At 26, single, and after being turned down for financing by two banks - I was a homeowner and NO one - especially a man, was ever going to be charged with keeping a roof over my head - ever again. Times are much different now. The house I bought for $85,000 in ’77 just resold (not by me) for over 1 million. Today, the entire world is unsettled - leaving all of us on seriously shaky ground.
I plunged headlong into displacement when I was a teenager who ran away from an abusive home. For a year, I spent time living with my boyfriend's family, or settling on the sofa of a friend, or sometimes sleeping in our car - always at the mercy of others who might turn ugly one day and demand we leave their home. When I got pregnant, and still homeless, I knew things had to change. My genetic heart defect was exacerbated by the pregnancy, and I could not carry the baby to term. A relative was kind enough to give us a room to stay for a year, during which time we saved up to rent an apartment. My boyfriend turned husband struggled with maintaining employment, and we set upon a series of evictions over the next few years. Eventually we divorced, and I swore that I would never allow my residency to be under the control of another person. All apartments were rented in my name, and eventually I owned a house in my name - until heart failure took away my health, my employment, and my home. Disabled, displaced, I live once more in a home under someone else's name.
What about the feeling of unsettlement which takes root inside you and never leaves no matter which home you lived in? What about the knowledge that you cannot escape what haunts you inside no matter where you go and for how long you stay there and call it "home"?