Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

This book has been jumping off the shelves at me for the past 5 years at least. Every time I'm in a bookstore or at the library, it calls to me - read me Kris!  I've picked it up, looked it over and thought, really another Canadian book on the prairies?  Nope, not for me.  And put it back down again.  And then there it was again and again, flaunting it's Governor General award winner badge at me.  So finally I gave in.  Because I had such low expectations of this book (I really thought I wouldn't like it at all) I was surprised to find myself engrossed in the story.  I have since read reader reviews of the book and it seems to me that people either love it or get so bored with it they don't finish it.  I don't fit into either category.  I think the writing was good, but I really couldn't call it much of a plot lined story.  There was lots of missing pieces of information that you wanted to have and I still don't have them at the end of the book.  There's a lot of filling in the blanks to do.
This is the story of Nomi Nickel, a teenager growing up in a Mennonite small town community in rural Manitoba? (I had envisioned Saskatchewan until reading the author was from Manitoba).  You learn early on that Nomi lives with her father Ray.  Her mother and sister left separately 3 years before - though you don't learn the whys of those departures until much later in the book.  The community of East Village is controlled by Nomi's uncle nicknamed The Mouth.  The Mouth takes his religious doctrine to the extreme, quashing any notions of worldly influence.  This isn't too far fetched.  The story is set in 1982.  I, myself grew up in a community with a large Mennonite population and had friends who had certain restrictions regarding movies, music and dance.  The Mouth takes it too the extreme however and you learn that shunnings are commonplace.  Being a Christian myself (and a pastor's wife) I can see the bent theology clearly here and it is no wonder that Nomi's sister Tash, becomes disenchanted with the church, looking to atheism. 
The story is told through Nomi's eyes, a 16 year old stuck in depression really with no way out.  She kind of watches life, looking to her boyfriend, drugs and nostalgia for pleasure.
The gem of this book for me is her relationship with her father, Ray.  Ray is a solid fellow who is lost in his own unrealized bewilderment of where life has taken him. 
This is the kind of book I would be interested in discussing with other readers, particularly those who were raised Mennonite, or in a small town community.  You do at times wonder if the book's accolades are merely a reflection of our society's need to discount religion, or, if it really is a deep, meaningful book?

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