A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews

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“I wasn’t pretty enough to be the complex, silent girl and yet I never knew what to say. I didn’t want to be the ugly, quiet girl. There was no such thing as the ugly, mysterious girl. I could be the tortured, self-destructive girl. But where does that lead?”

I feel as though this month I’ve gained all sorts of knowledge of Mennonites. All of it has been gleaned from Miriam Toews. A few weeks ago we read All My Puny Sorrows for book club, and it wrecked me. I showed up to Matthew’s house crying, I cried some more when I had to read that one part near the end, and I spent a lot of time afterwards randomly exclaiming, “Miriam Toews, you do not get to make me feel like this!” But of course she does, because she can write like crazy. I’m still wondering how that book didn’t win the Giller Prize, and later this month I’ll read the book that did and let you know.

What did I think of this? That’s tricky. It’s not as complex a book as AMPS, because it was written a decade ago and Toews is a more nuanced writer now. The narrator, Nomi, has this really tremendous voice that Toews captures well, which is hard to do. It’s hard to write like a teenage girl. I feel like it’s a prequel to AMPS in a way. Mennonite family drama set against the backdrop of rural Saskatchewan, if you want to call it a trope (it’s not a trope, don’t call it that). There are some subplots that could be cliche (did I mention the narrator is a teenage girl?) but Toews deftly steers them into the territory of complication and nuance. Overall, I dig it, but it didn’t crush me. Thank goodness.

Books read: 4

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