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Exploring Communal Living and Its Portrayal in A Lot of People Live in This House

Having lived communally for many years now, I’m always pleasantly surprised when people respond with fascination when I tell them that I have nine (or eleven) roommates. At a recent event at the Loring Greenough House in Jamaica Plain, I had a chance to share my perspectives on communal living and discuss how the model is portrayed in my novel, A Lot of People Live in This House.

Bailey Merlin sits in the front of a room with a large audience. There is a chandelier above her and a projector behindher.

The Genesis of Communal Living in the Novel


As longtime followers of this blog know, this novel was born out of a desire to make communal living interesting and relatable to a broad audience. While many of my friends were complaining of loneliness during the pandemic, I had the chance to live with, at that point, twelve people. We spent a lot of time together cooking, playing games, and watching movies. It really was a modern-day Decameron. A Lot of People Live in This House was my chance to put the power of shared spaces on full display and also a way to pay homage to the people who have become my family.


Breaking Stereotypes


Communal living often carries stereotypes and misconceptions. In my talk, I addressed some of these preconceived notions (e.g., communal living is a cult) and shed light on the diversity of communal arrangements. I was able to speak more on the variety of communal living models out there, which I discussed in my most recent post, “6 communal living models that will change your mind about roommates.”


I encouraged my audience to reconsider any previous notions about communal living because I believe it is a natural state for humans to live in. Honestly, this whole moving away from your family thing resulted from the Industrial Revolution, where young people left their families to seek their fortune in the city. This whole setup destroyed previous living models that kept families close to one another to support the needs of each generation.


But I digress.


Realities and Utopias


During the event, I explored the balance between portraying the realities of communal living. While it’s easy for me to say that communal living is awesome, that doesn’t mean it is all the time. It’s not cake every day. Sometimes you have to do the dishes. In the novel, I aimed to create a nuanced narrative that acknowledges the complexities of communal life, from conflicts and compromises to shared joys and triumphs.


Utopian ideal: Communal living means that someone selflessly cooks for you every night.

Reality: Care starts with consideration. If you're hungry, someone else in the house will be, too. Cook something so you don't have to do the dishes.


Themes Explored in the Q&A


I am such a big fan of Q&A. I’m not sure if that’s because it is my fondest wish to be interviewed by NPR or that I am interested in hearing from audiences. The usual questions popped up in the session.

  1. How do you handle conflict?

  2. How do you split the grocery bill?

  3. Do you want to live communally for the rest of your life?

These are great questions, and I love answering them! I also got to answer questions about the writing process. Someone asked if I found it weird basing characters off of people I knew well, and it was difficult to articulate how much autonomy characters have once you get to know them better.


Looking Forward


The Loring Greenough House event is my best to date. Most of the people in the room were strangers to me, which says that there’s something attractive about learning about how someone else lives. Honestly, the event felt like a stepping stone in fostering a conversation about communal living.


I look forward to further discussions and reflections as readers embark on their journeys through the narrative. As I book more events, I will pitch it as an opportunity for people to learn more about communal living and then read an excerpt from the book.


Exploring communal living in A Lot of People Live in This House goes beyond the pages of the novel. It is an invitation to readers to rethink their perceptions of shared living spaces and to consider the possibilities and intricacies that such arrangements can offer. For me, it isn’t just a novel; it’s an opportunity to explore human connection and celebrate the ways in which we choose to live together.


My next goal? Land a book club!


bam

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