Maintenance - Book Club Guide

Maintenance by Rob Benvie | Discussion Questions | Coach House Books

• Why do you think Rob Benvie titled his novel Maintenance?

• Is there a character in the novel that you most identify with?

• Most of the action in Maintenance takes place in the developed world among relatively privileged people. And yet the characters are repeatedly exposed to news of famine or civil war elsewhere. What role does international news play in the novel?

• Why does Satan the cat narrate passages within the novel? What does his perspective bring to the story?

• What do you make of Heath’s realization that ‘true conflicts never end. Even if today’s horror passes, others lie ahead’?

• What do you make of Trixie’s realization that ‘some crimes serve no purpose but for the act itself’?

• All of the characters in Maintenance strive for self-improvement in some way. Do any of them achieve it?

Maintenance is mainly about the Sweltham family. And yet, once in a while, people from outside the Sweltham clan wander into the novel and take up a fair amount of narrative space. What do we learn about Parker and Heath through their interactions with Adam and Brunhilde respectively?

• Fear is always lurking in the background of Benvie’s narrative. This is obviously true for Trixie, but also for Heath, who goes to the emergency ward after experiencing inexplicable chest pain, and Parker, who is occasionally beset by an intense, seemingly inexplicable terror. What are the characters so scared of?

• Trixie’s chapters are interspersed with excerpts from the Montreal diary she kept in her twenties, which focuses mainly on her fraught love affair with the poet Rory. How do the diaries, rooted as they are in a distant past, shape our understanding of Trixie?

• In hindsight, the paranoia about Y2K was extremely overblown. But it seemed like a real and imminent threat back in 1999. How did you respond to the Y2K hype back in the late 90s? Do Benvie’s depictions of the pre-Y2K era match your memories of the time?

• During the trip to Montana, Heath reminisces about the year 1972, and realizes that ‘nothing has changed, yet everything has changed.’ What does this revelation mean?

• In an interview with Coach House, Rob Benvie said that, by evoking details of the late-90s - news stories, cultural anxieties, brand names etc. - Maintenance enables one to better assess just how much the world has changed in the last twelve years. What kind of changes, between then and now, became most apparent to you when reading Maintenance?

• Benvie borrows quite heavily from the language of self-help culture, particularly in the instructional material for the Do It Dynamic! program and in Heath’s screenwriting guide, Shearing the Chaff. Obviously Benvie is poking fun at the self-help phenomenon. But is there occasional wisdom to be gleaned from these passages too?

• The Sweltham family is in bad shape at the novel’s end. Trixie is dying, Parker is surely facing a lengthy jail sentence, and Heath is still Heath. But is there potential for redemption in the Sweltham’s son, Owen?

Related Content
Related Contributors: 
Related Title: