“There was something seething away inside of her, something fierce and unpredictable, like a saw in a birthday cake.”
We read Toews’ latest book, All My Puny Sorrows, for the last book club before Bookstravaganza began. It crushed me, and arguably crushed me more than a book had in a long time (and I still don’t understand why it didn’t win the Giller). I often found myself yelling at the book in frustration because of how devastating it was, and had to console myself with a jar of peanut butter at the book’s conclusion.
A Complicated Kindness, while good and decorated with book awards, is not as devastating. I would also say it’s not nearly as good. Perhaps my expectations were too high after AMPS but I left this one feeling a bit disappointed. Nomi is a fascinating narrator and is reacting to her Mennonite world in such a beautifully catastrophic way, but her “struggle” is all so internalized that it felt like less was at stake than in AMPS. I shouldn’t be comparing the two but the similarities are hard to ignore – the outspoken, creative sister, the quiet father, the Mennonite repression. And Toews’ writing craft is much more developed, more nuanced, more beautiful now than it was before.
It took me a while to get through this book, and that was because I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I was expecting to. At least it didn’t leave me so unbearably sad that I couldn’t leave my chair for half an hour after the final sentence. Yes, it’s beautifully written – but maybe I should have read it before AMPS. Writers obviously get better the more they write – I always wonder how published authors feel about their earlier works, even if they were celebrated. Do they look back on it and think “oh god how did I ever write that awful of a sentence, please don’t talk about that book it fills me with shame?” I know I feel that about some of the short stories I wrote for creative writing classes, stories that got As but that I hate now and wouldn’t share with the person I trust the most.
Books read: 13