Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Complicated Kindness

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews was originally published in 2004. My hardcover copy has 246 pages. This is the story of an emotionally wounded, disenchanted, embittered, rebellious teen, Nomi, who manages to survive while dealing with the bleak reality of living with her father in the legalistic Mennonite town her sister and mother have fled. It is a coming-of-age novel with a touch of despair mixed in with sarcastic humor. Nomi is an anti-hero. She is not exhibiting heroic behavior in the face of adversity; she's a young woman spinning out of control.

While Toews talent is evident in the honest insights and sensitivities revealed in A Complicated Kindness, there are a few moments when Nomi and her town can become slightly tiresome. This is a novel that must be finished to be fully appreciated. Rather than an action packed adventure, A Complicated Kindness slowly moves along, revealing new clues explaining why Nomi's mother and sister left, and why her father stays. This novel is different, darker, edgier than Toews' A Boy of Good Breeding. Highly recommend with a rating of 4.

Synopsis from cover:
Welcome to the world of Nomi Nickel, a tough, wry young woman trapped in a small Mennonite town that seeks to set her on the path to righteousness and smother her at the same time. In this work of fierce originality and brilliance, Miriam Toews explores the intricate binds of family, and the forces that tear them apart.

"Half our family, the better-looking half, is missing,'" Nomi tells us at the beginning of A Complicated Kindness. Left alone with her father Ray, her days are spent piecing together the reasons her mother, Trudie, and her sister, Natasha, have gone missing, and trying to figure out what she can do to avoid a career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken abattoir on the outskirts of East Village - not the neighborhood in Manhattan where Nomi most wants to live, but the small town in southern Manitoba. Boasting such attractions as a Main Street that goes nowhere and a replica pioneer village that harkens back to the days when life was simple, and citizens who didn't live by the book were routinely shunned East Village is ministered by the fiercely pious Hans, or as Nomi calls her uncle, The Mouth.

As Nomi gets to the bottom of the truth behind her mother's and sister's disappearances, she finds herself on a direct collision course with her uncle and the only community she has ever known. But one startling act of defiance brings the novel to its shattering conclusion, and Miriam Toews reveals herself as a master of story telling at the height of her powers.

"I have assignments to complete. That's the word, complete. I've got a problem with endings. Mr. Quiring has told me that essays and stories generally come, organically, to a preordained ending that is quite out of the writer's control." pg. 1

"People here just can't wait to die, it seems. It's the main event. The only reason we're not all snuffed at birth is because that would reduce our suffering by a lifetime." pg. 5

"Imagine the least well-adjusted kid in your school starting a breakaway clique of people whose manifesto includes a ban on the media, dancing, smoking, temperate climates, movies, drinking, rock 'n' roll, ...swimming, make-up, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities, or staying up past nine o'clock. That was Menno all over. Thanks a lot, Menno. pg. 5

"The place Trudie travelled to most often was the church basement. The women have to spent a lot of time there. If they don't want to go to hell." pg. 9

"Tash and I exchanged looks that meant something like: Is our mother crazy in a cool, fun way or has she stepped over the line into disturbing crazy that we'd like to see stop?" pg. 12

"Good Mennonites don't technically celebrate the arrival of another year of being imprisioned in this world. It's a frustrating night for them." pg. 22

"When we were little, Tash and I would sit in the darkened dining room of my grandmother's farmhouse, listening to the funeral announcements. They came on after supper, on the local radio station we were allowed to listen to because the elders knew it was better for little children to listen to the names of dead people being read out in a terrifying monotone than the Beatles singing all we need is love." pg. 39

"I had an imaginary friend then who hated me and was trying to kill me. The night walks with Trudie helped me to forget my problems." pg. 87

"I had to go to a farmer's field with my history class and pick rocks. It was supposed to help us appreciate how excellent our current lives were. " pg.98

"When I got to school I told my teacher I was on cloud nine. I told her I was so happy I thought I could fly. I told her I felt so great I wanted to dance like Fred Astaire.
She said life was not a dream. And dancing was a sin. Now get off it and sit back down." pg. 209

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