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Human Amusements (1994)

de Wayne Johnston

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612361,488 (3.09)9
Wayne Johnston’s fourth novel – and the only one to be set outside Newfoundland – is a hilarious send-up of television’s early days, capturing all the nostalgia and innocence of the time. It is the late 1950s and in lower middle-class Toronto, Audrey Prendergast, whose love for her family blinds her to all else, sees the new medium of television as the only means of climbing the social ladder. And climb it the Prendergasts begin to do when Audrey launches a children’s show called Rumpus Room, starring herself as Miss Mary and her young son Henry as Bee Good/Bee Bad. When the program becomes an overnight sensation, and the Prendergasts’ world begins to change, much to the chagrin of Audrey’s husband, Peter, family comedian and would-be novelist. Determined to keep his family anchored in reality, Peter refuses to have anything to do with Rumpus Room and throws all his energy into writing his novel and doing an almost non-stop and hilarious commentary on modern culture. When Audrey’s second television series – the Philo Farnsworth Show – becomes a huge success, things begin to break down. Based on the real-life inventor of the television set, the show becomes a kind of camp classic, attracting a group of fanatic followers who call themselves “Philosophers” and more or less worship the teenage Henry. Sorrow and comedy mingle and blend as the Prendergasts struggle to retain their innocence and love for one another in the maelstrom of their changing lives.… (més)
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Meet the Prendergasts: Audrey who becomes a successful TV personality and producer. She plays Miss Mary, host of the Rumpus Room (if you grew up with Romper Room, you'll be familiar with it). Her son, Henry, plays Bee Good and Bee Bad, wordlessly illustrating how children should/shouldn't behave. Husband/father Peter is an aspiring author who isn't really a fan of TV as a genre. His tongue-in-cheek comments are so funny throughout the book!

Rumpus Room in a great success, but pales in comparison to the success of Audrey and Henry's next program: a show about Philo Farnsworth, the teenager who invented television. Henry plays the title role and develops a cult-like following. All this puts a strain on Peter and Audrey's marriage and on Henry's relationships at school and at home.

This is a highly entertaining story about the early days of television and tabloids and how they affect our lives. Often funny, but with a darker message about the underside of fame. ( )
  LynnB | Sep 15, 2019 |
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I have a complete collection of the early "Rumpus Room" episodes and, watching them, it's hard to believe that it's me sometimes, for I'm completely contained by that costume and I never speak.
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Wayne Johnston’s fourth novel – and the only one to be set outside Newfoundland – is a hilarious send-up of television’s early days, capturing all the nostalgia and innocence of the time. It is the late 1950s and in lower middle-class Toronto, Audrey Prendergast, whose love for her family blinds her to all else, sees the new medium of television as the only means of climbing the social ladder. And climb it the Prendergasts begin to do when Audrey launches a children’s show called Rumpus Room, starring herself as Miss Mary and her young son Henry as Bee Good/Bee Bad. When the program becomes an overnight sensation, and the Prendergasts’ world begins to change, much to the chagrin of Audrey’s husband, Peter, family comedian and would-be novelist. Determined to keep his family anchored in reality, Peter refuses to have anything to do with Rumpus Room and throws all his energy into writing his novel and doing an almost non-stop and hilarious commentary on modern culture. When Audrey’s second television series – the Philo Farnsworth Show – becomes a huge success, things begin to break down. Based on the real-life inventor of the television set, the show becomes a kind of camp classic, attracting a group of fanatic followers who call themselves “Philosophers” and more or less worship the teenage Henry. Sorrow and comedy mingle and blend as the Prendergasts struggle to retain their innocence and love for one another in the maelstrom of their changing lives.

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