A Complicated Kindness – Miriam Toews

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“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

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One response to “A Complicated Kindness – Miriam Toews

  1. I read this book many years ago, and it’s the only Miriam Toews book I’ve read. It was a good read, but nothing amazing, and I’ve never bothered to pick her up again. But after hearing everyone rave about All My Puny Sorrows and now this review, I think I’ll go pick it up.

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