Racy story of elite TO family Reviewer couldn’t put down this Toronto elite’s racy family memoir

Paulette Touby –

For those of you who feel your mother somehow got you into this mess The Mousehouse Years might resonate.

Velvet Haney did not speak at her mother’s funeral. This book is Velvet’s eulogy, she says.

Except there is no expression of love for her mother.

She didn’t want it to “be all about Dad.” But Dad’s “larger than life stuff” is the spine to which all the flesh clings.

It had to be. Their lives were lived as responses to his arrivals and departures; his presence, absences, charm, fun, big ideas, girlfriends and finally depravity.

Velvet comes from a family that is decidedly “upper crust” but this does not protect them from poverty or instability, all writ by Dad, namely William Agustus Richardson, Jr., aka “Billy.”

Billy lurched from spontaneity to freedom and back again. Every time he came home and then left, her Mum, Elsie Margaret (Meg) McLaughlin, was with child. Despite all Meg loved exciting Billy.

So that’s Meg’s sexuality. But before that comes  Billy’s mother’s sexuality. It is alluded that she spent too much time in bed with her boys.

So Meg cast her fate with Billy and Billy was damaged goods.

That sealed the childhood experiences of Velvet and her siblings.

This strange and charming book tells its tales entirely in primitive cartoon drawings,  illustrated by Velvet, plus nostalgia-inducing photos of the six Richardson children in the 1950s. Dialogue is mostly in bubbles above the players. Simple…and deep.

It is captivating. I received it when I was supposed to be making dinner. I started to leaf through it and could not leave. We had peanuts and martinis that night. It seemed fittingly neglectful.

Dad’s ideas of teaching his children the birds and the bees included manipulating his girlfriend to sexual climax in front of his children and offering her to the boys, nine and 10, to “learn how to be men.”

Or taking the boys into the bathroom to masturbate, starting with him; “nature’s tranquilizer” (his words).

It seems Meg didn’t know of the occurrences but at least didn’t take his sexual obsessions seriously.

There were other “indiscretions,” some of which caused the suicide of Velvet’s stunning half-sister, a society girl married to a society boy where Conrad Black was best man.

Meg stabilized the family but had more than a touch of the bohemian herself, which worked under the circumstances.

Excerpts of her diary reveal the zeitgeist of her existence and enhance the narrative.

The Moushouse refers to a tiny house Meg and the children lived in from 1959 to 1966 in Toronto’s “slums,” Alexandra Park.

Velvet was a gorgeous fashion model and is now a society matron and mom. She lives in Toronto her husband, John Haney, and their children. John is a co-inventor of the Trivial Pursuit board game.

Velvet has reached the stage in her life when there is no longer any need for shame. Even if some things are shameful, they are part of her journey and this autobiography is a continuation of that journey, perhaps the coda of her childhood.

It is a surprisingly big book, 358 pages of heavy subject matter that is authentic, humorous, light.

And oddly fun.

She has comported herself well.

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