Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Catching Up with Miriam Toews

So it has been a while since my last post so lots to catch up with. As mentioned in my last post, we had our first book club meeting, with some really smart and wonderful folks. The first book we chose was by Canadian author Miriam Toews, specifically her newest fictionalized account of her sister's suicide All My Puny Sorrows. This was my first Toews book and it was as lovely and tragically funny as the many accolades the novel received when it was released in 2014.

The story is told through the eyes of Yoli, a semi successful Toronto author and single mother, who is trying desperately to convince her sister Elf not to take her life as she struggles through severe depression. Yoli struggles to offer Elf solace yet try to persuade her to keep living, while also comforting her own mother and trying to manage a personal life that is filled with failure and disappointment.

Toews intertwines so many thematic elements in her story telling, from depression and suicide, to growing up in an intensely religious Mennonite community that looks down at a family's eccentricities, and to how a family copes with such profound loss. Toews writing is witty and funny, which provided a levity to an otherwise gloomy story. There are laugh out loud moments (one in particular where a defiant teen piano prodigy Elf infuriatingly plays away her piano to drive out the Mennonite elders who had visited to chastise her father) and other parts filled with endless tragedy that leave the reader grasping for air.

Despite this, I felt wanting more from this book. There was so much to be told that was left unsaid. I wanted to hear more about the sisters' upbringing and what happened between those early years and the concluding moments of Elf's life. That said, some of my book club members seemed to prefer the silence on these subjects, left room for our imaginations to fill in the gaps and construct our own ideas about how Elf and Yoli ended up here.

Nonetheless, Toews has written a very powerful yet intimate novel. You could feel the personal catharsis that Toews must have felt writing about such a difficult moment in her life. The reader is left feeling a sense of connection with her and you definitely don't get that in most works of fiction.

I look forward to exploring Toews' backlist and maybe getting deeper insight into those themes Toews teased us with in All My Puny Sorrows.

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