Set in small-town North Carolina in 1951, Ron Rash’s The Caretaker was hailed a LoveReading Star Book for very good reason. In fact, it seems set to be one of our top novels of 2024. It really is that good.
The story is centred on three characters. First Blackburn, an outcast who was disfigured by childhood polio and tends the local cemetery. A young man whose only friend in the world, Jacob, entrusts him to look out for his pregnant wife when he’s conscripted to fight in Korea. While Jacob is away, his wealthy parents seize the opportunity to rid their family of any connection to Jacob’s wife and their grandson-in-waiting. Naomi is an uneducated woman they deem unworthy of their son and class.
The story rises and swells in surprising waves, exploring love and friendship, appalling class snobbery and small-town prejudice with empathy and subtle rage. The writing is mesmerising, the story haunting and universally resonant. As such, its themes and style render it ideal for book clubs to explore.
Read on to discover some topics to talk about at your next get together. For more ideas, browse our Book Club category, and discover additional reading group questions. In the meantime, enjoy diving into The Caretaker.
1. What are the main themes of The Caretaker? What do you think the author is trying to say through this novel? What’s the significance of the title?
2. Bathed in the colourful glow of sun through a stained-glass window, Blackburn would “briefly feel that the world, himself included, was something more than it appeared.” What’s the significance of this? What does it reveal about the world inhabited by the three main characters?
3. “The dead could do nothing worse to [Blackburn] than the living had already done.” What does the novel reveal about the nature of being an outcast? Which of the characters is most of an outcast?
4. “Humiliation, embarrassment, guilt, he’d felt all these emotions in his life. But this was something more. In that moment, when Clarke’s gaze softened in commiseration, Daniel had felt shame.” Did you feel any sympathy for Jacob’s parents? Could their actions be justified in any way? Did your opinion of them change through the course of the novel? For example, when Jacob’s mother realises Naomi loved her son.
5. How did you feel when Naomi’s father signed the agreement?
6. What did you think of the writing style?
7. What does The Caretaker reveal about the intersection of class and gender prejudice in the 1950s? Does it still hold true today?
8. What impact did The Caretaker have on you? Did you find it an easy read? Did the story stay with you?