19 December 2008

a complicated kindness - Miriam Toews

As I attach the cover photo above, I just spotted the ax in the top right corner - akin to the sword of Damocles hanging above Nomi's despondent story of adolescent life in the small Mennonite community of East Village, Manitoba. Her story, although particular to the specifics of growing up in a highly insular town of orthodox folk, is a story of universal frustration that the swarms of adolescents dolefully live out across the world (or perhaps to be more specific, throughout the Western world, I don't know if Papua New Guinean teenagers get frustrated at having to complete their homework before being allowed to go chew taro roots and not being aloud to listen to loud music in their huts). Many reviews would classify the book as darkly humorous - granted it is funny, but I'm pretty sure Toews intent was one of light shining through darkness? But then again, it has been a while since I was a teenager so I may have had trouble relating, so to speak.

To be honest, I don't know how I feel about the book. Having spoken to a couple of friends who hated the book, and having at least ostensibly enjoyed the writing style, I am left at a crossroads. In the beginning there may have been nothing - how biblical - but in the end, there was not much either. In between, there is a outpouring of Nomi's filial love that is tainted by doubt and confusion. The lyricism of Toew's prose- similar to Salinger's Catcher in the Rye - is wonderfully effective at putting the reader into Nomi's shoes - so to speak - as one can almost grasp at the tangible aspect of her emotions. For such an achievement, Toews' is to be praised. But the very art that allows her to succeeds, also frustrates the reader, as there is very little substance beneath these feelings. I haven't decided whether Toews pushes the teenage angst button too far, or I simply became bored with the repetitive, even if wonderful, writing style. Maybe that was the point?

Is it wrong to trust in a beautiful lie if it helps you get through life.

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