Human Amusements

Publisher: Vintage Canada
Wayne Johnston’s fourth novel 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.


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. Only because I know that, before 1972, no one else ever played the part am I able to convince myself...
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"His books are…among the funniest I’ve ever read, yet somehow at the same time among the most poignant and moving."
—Annie Dillard

"Why I love reading Wayne Johnston: The reader goes skittering through [his] novels, driven inexorably forward on the force of his characters, on the power of his wit."
—Mary Walsh

Praise for The Divine Ryans
"Johnston is an authentic comic genius.... His timing and pacing are impeccable. He knows how to...create laughter out of a wonderful mixture of emotions."
The Gazette (Montreal)

"Divine reading indeed.... A work of art in its powerful handling of everyday humour and sublime tragedy."
St. John’s Sunday Express

Praise for Baltimore’s Mansion
"A splendid memoir.... Wayne Johnston is one of a kind. A major Canadian talent."
—Mordecai Richler

"A prodigiously talented author.... Baltimore’s Mansion ought to win a wide readership, especially among those of us grasping after the meaning of our own fathers’ lives."
The Globe and Mail, A Best Book of ‘99

Praise for The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
"A capacious, old-fashioned summer hammock of a book – the kind you fall into, enchanted, and hate to leave."

"As beautiful as imaginative writing gets."
—David Macfarlane, The Globe and Mail