A Complicated Kindness
Miriam Toews is a brilliant writer. She's getting well-deserved press for her latest book Women Talking, but I want to point to her earlier work A Complicated Kindness, which is the first book of hers I somehow stumbled upon.
A Complicated Kindness is a darkly comic novel narrated by Naomi, a sixteen-year-old girl trapped in a dead-end town in Manitoba, Canada. The community is governed by a fundamentalist religion that has shattered her family and left Naomi trying to piece together why her mother and sister have disappeared. Naomi's droll voice and precise observations will make you laugh out loud as she leads you toward the book's inevitable conclusion, which will break your heart in exactly the right way.
Her writing is magnificent, her observations searing, her storytelling gripping. Here's a passage where Naomi describes her father:
“When negative experiences such as having one's house shot at occur in my dad's life he tends to come alive. His confusion lifts. Pieces of life's puzzle fuse into meaning like the continents before that colossal rift. It's entirely logical to him that his house has been shot at and when he's able to spend a minute or two in a world that makes sense he appears almost happy. And when he gets happy he does decisive things like this time he went over to the bulletin board in the kitchen and took down the city bus schedule that we've had up there since Tash left and before the bus depot itself closed down. He put it in the garbage can under the sink. Phew. Done. Goodbye past. But then I imagined him on a day when shitty things weren't happening and he'd be feeling his usual mystified self and go to the dump and there he would see that little piece of paper with the schedule on it and it would bring him to his knees. Just destroy him for a minute or two and he'd probably pick it up and wipe whatever seagull crap there was on it and straighten it out with the side of his hand and bring it back to the kitchen bulletin board and ARRANGE it on there so you'd know it was the centerpiece of his life.”
Here are a few random examples of her writing. I can't get enough of her:
“It bothered me in a kind of Charles Manson way to have a brown smear of blood on my wall but I also liked it because every time I looked at it I was reminded that I was, at that very moment, not bleeding from my face. And those are powerful words of hope, really.”
“It's raining questions around here. A person could drown in them.”
“The town office building has a giant filing cabinet full of death certificates that say choked to death on his own anger or suffocated from unexpressed feelings of unhappiness.”
“A few weeks ago my uncle came over to borrow my dad's socket set and when he asked my dad how he was my dad said oh unexceptional. Living quietly with my disappointments. And how are you?”
About Susan Edsall
Writing is how I make my way through the thicket of what we’ve made of this planet we’re on. It takes me a long time and lots of words. Social media mystifies me. How do so many people have so much to say, so quickly, and with such resolute certainty? Read more about Susan >