Meet Thomas Rosanoff: med student and researcher. Meet his subjects: three homeless men who believe they are God.
Ever since his girlfriend ended things, Thomas’s life has been on a downward spiral. A gifted medical student, he has spent his entire adulthood struggling to escape the legacy of his father, an esteemed psychiatrist who used him as a test subject when he was a boy. Thomas lived his entire childhood watched over by researchers lurking behind one-way glass.
But now the tables have turned. Thomas is the researcher, and he’s convinced an experiment he has concocted will cure three homeless men of their delusional claims. When the experiment careens out of control, however, Thomas is forced to confront the voices echoing in his own head and the ghosts of his own past.
An explosively imaginative tour de force, The Shoe on the Roof questions our definitions of sanity and madness while exploring the magical reality that lies just beyond the world of scientific fact.
The Shoe on the Roof Will Ferguson Reading Group Guide
Topics & Questions for Book Clubs
1. Sister Frances tells Thomas that “Science can only take us so far. . . . There will always be something just out of reach. Something elusive. We might as well call it God.” What does The Shoe on the Roof ultimately say about the tension between science and faith?
2. After Thomas and Amy break up, Thomas complains that love serves no evolutionary purpose, but merely produces “temporary madness, when all is said and done.” How are the ideas of love and madness intertwined in The Shoe on the Roof?
3. How does Thomas’s childhood as “the Boy in the Box” shape him? Does it change how he relates to others?
4. What role does Sister Francis play in Thomas’s life? What influence, if any, does she have on Thomas?
5. Religion plays an important role throughout the novel. How does religion shape the lives of each of the characters? Is it for better or for worse?
6. Not wanting to live under the shadow of his father, Thomas adopts his mother’s surname, and in doing so, alters his identity. How does the importance of names affect Thomas and other characters throughout the novel?
7. Thomas is simultaneously drawn to and infuriated by Eli, Sebastian, and the Magician. Discuss why there is a push and pull between Thomas and his test subjects.
8. Thomas believes that “injustice, like longing, gravity, taxes, or air, will always be part of our world, not an anomaly.” What do you make of Thomas’s view on life, considering everything he has gone through?
9. Thomas receives anonymous postcards, always with “Remember Me?” written on the back. Eventually, the message becomes, “Remember Me.” How does this shift in punctuation alter the meaning of the message for Thomas? Why did it take him so long to realize the difference?
10. According to Bernie, we are born with three emotions: fear, love, and rage. Discuss the significance of these three emotions in Thomas’s subjects: Eli, Sebastian, and the Magician.
11. Does Thomas’s experiment fail? Do you think that Eli, Sebastian, and the Magician can all be God? Why or why not?
12. Discuss the significance of the title The Shoe on the Roof.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Now that you’ve finished the book, reread the parable of the shoe on the roof from the beginning. How does this story relate to the themes of The Shoe on the Roof?
2. The novel addresses addiction and homelessness, two issues that are prevalent in many urban areas. After reading about the lives of these characters, has your opinion of addiction and/or homelessness changed?
3. In his author’s note, Will Ferguson writes about the setting of the novel, explaining that the novel was originally to be set in Montreal. Do you think this story could have taken place in your city? Why or why not?
Will Ferguson is the author of four novels, including 419, which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. A three-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, he has been nominated for both a Commonwealth Prize and an IMPAC Dublin Award. The Shoe on the Roof is his most recent novel. Will Ferguson lives in Calgary. Visit him at WillFerguson.ca.
“Ferguson is a skillful and original writer, and over all, the novel is full of life. . . . The Shoe on the Roof’s lasting strength is in such sly jabs at the “alternative facts” and deep divisions we’re now reckoning with, making it a tale for the times.”
– The Globe and Mail
“The Shoe on the Roof is often laugh-out-loud funny despite its serious and tragic underpinnings. But it’s also thought-provoking, occasionally violent and will likely stay with readers long after the last page is read.”
– Calgary Herald
– Quill & Quire
“Another gem from this Giller Prize-winning author.”
– Canadian Living
PRAISE FOR 419
“A deeply ironic, thoroughly engaged politico-philosophical thriller from a comic writer best known for winning a trio of Leacock Awards…. You won’t sleep until you finish, and then rest won’t come easily. Riveting. Provocative.”
– The Globe and Mail
“Heart-wrenching, fascinating, and scary …. An unflinching, ambitious work.”
– Toronto Star
“A powerful read…. Ferguson is a heavy-weight.”
– NOW Magazine
“Ferguson is a keen observer of landscapes and cityscapes, and has a brilliant ear for dialogue and accent…. you will never see those creative 419 emails in your inbox in quite the same way.”