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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Complicated Kindness

Nomi Nickel is the 16-year-old narrator of Miriam Toews' third novel. She lives in East Village, a Mennonite community in Manitoba with her schoolteacher dad, a reserved, gentle man who is devastated after his wife, Trudie and his older daughter, Tash left separately for parts unknown. Nomi also pines for them. With half their quirky little family gone Ray and Nomi try to keep going but are seriously struggling with their loss. Trudie's brother Hans, aka "The Mouth", is a joyless religious leader who instills the fear of God into the community. We learn that he excommunicated Trudie and Tash and this is likely why they have left town. They did not want Ray to have to choose between his church and his love for them. Ray has been selling their furniture piece by piece and disappears at night to tidy the dump. Nomi stops going to school, rides around town with her boyfriend Travis, smokes a bit of weed, drinks a little booze and starts taking birth control pills. It seems inevitable that she will end up working at the only industry in this lifeless town, a chicken slaughterhouse. Understandably this probability depresses her.

I've made the book sound dark and bleak but it's not at all. Nomi has a wry way of looking at the world that made me laugh despite all the sadness. It took me a few years to get around to this book because a Mennonite coming of age story was the last thing I wanted to read. Then I heard Toews read from All My Puny Sorrows at the Eden Mills Writers' Festival, read it, loved it and moved on to this earlier novel and am so glad I did. The ending left me fretting about what would happen to Nomi and I would love to see a sequel.

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