The Support Worker of Emile Durkheim House
The Support Worker of Emile Durkheim House is a novella about the infamous Canadian group home for the mentally ill. Despite it being a work of fiction, author Jon Rowland claims that the routines and procedures described in the story are a realistic portrayal of life in a group home, especially one that houses those suffering from schizophrenia.
More specifically, the story is about Adam, a support worker who commits suicide by blowing his brains out with a pistol. The narrator of the story is a friend and fellow coworker of Adam’s, who recounts his last days almost like snapshots or fleeting episodes. Sometimes he shares the day-today activities, sometimes he reminisces of specific memories of Adam and the other patients, triggered by something that had happened during the day. Some make you laugh (patients crashing AA meetings for the free coffee and donuts), while others break your heart (Adam shaving his pubic hair because he knew he’d be on a stainless steel tray the next day).
The Support Worker is a pretty dark piece and the outlook on life of both the workers and patients is interminably bleak. The narrator is bitter, the patients are erratic and moody, and they’re often left to their own destructive devices without any professional attendance. To put it simply, Rowland makes the joint sound like a real hellhole. With every sentence, the reader can’t help but feel a heaviness leech into their lungs and weigh heavy on their chest. It’s suffocating, it’s merciless and and most of all, it’s depressing.
Nevertheless, the story rarely lags and easily maintains the reader’s interest. Rowland’s deviation from the typical linear narrative structure is reminiscent of the unpredictable, volatile behaviour of a patient suffering with schizophrenia and the reader never really knows what each block of text will reveal.
The use of circularity in the piece is also interesting; an underlying theme of the work is that self-deception is the only path to happiness in life; in other words, living in your own delusions. The narrator says that’s likely the reason “we’re (the support workers) so miserable.” The ironic twist is that the narrator says near the end that Adam’s death was like something that happened to him in a movie; that it wasn’t real. Furthermore, the narrator says that Adam always wanted to be an actor and that he was obviously quite the talent — wearing a smile one day and offing himself the next.
It appears that self-deception can’t help one escape the gloom of Emile Durkheim House after all.
Ultimately, The Support Worker is an embittered piece that plays on the reader’s curiosity about Rowland’s intentions. What is most saddening is that it is likely based on some level of personal experience. If that’s the case, this story is a very necessary and vital read for anyone who gives a damn about what’s going on within our healthcare institutions. (Amy Greenwood)
Zine, Jon Thomas Rowland, email@example.com