Friday, December 22, 2006
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
There are novels that shake me up and infuriate me and inspire me all at once. This is one of those.
I've already discussed how the author's somewhat negative view of growing up Mennonite clashed my own; in fact, I barely recognized the faith as my own the way she describes it. You can read all about that here, where I wrote about my feelings in great detail. Right here however, is where I discuss the novel for what it is.
Miriam Toews has perfectly captured the voice of a disillusioned, smart and sensitive, bored and hurt teenage girl.
As I finish up my own novel about a couple of similarly inclined teenagers, I feel like I've just been taught how it should be done.
Sixteen year old Nomi Nickel lives with her dad because her sister, then her mother, have run away. Nobody knows where they have gone, and Nomi is haunted by their motives for leaving. There isn't much of a plot, other than Nomi thinking of ways to leave her stifling small village, but as the novel moves along the tension rises steadily and quietly.
That's the genius of this story- you barely notice as the tension builds. Nomi wanders in her own thoughts and in her surroundings, and it seems like nothing is happening, but gradually clues surface about the past and about where her future will take her.
The only way I can do it justice is to show you instead of telling you.
I may be a disappointment to Menno Simons but I would like him to know that I have carved, out of the raw material that he has provided, a new faith. I sitll believe that one day we'll all be togehter, the four of us, in New York City. Lou Reed could live with us too. We would all sleep until nooon, then play Frisbee in Central Park, then watch him play in clubs. We'd be his roadies. People would say hey, is that Lou Reed and his Mennonite family of roadies?
This is amazing- I have said so many prayers that sounded just like this:
I went back into my bedroom and knelt at my bed the way I did when I was a kid. I folded my hands and pressed the top knuckle joints of my thumbs hard into my forehead. Dear God. I don't know what I want or who I am. Apparently you do. Um...that's great. Never mind. You have a terrible reputation here. You should know that. Oh, but I guess you do know that. Save me now. Or when it's convenient. We could run away together. This is stupid. What am I doing? I guess this is a prayer. I feel like an idiot,but I guess you knew that already, too. My sister said that god is music. Goodbye. Amen. I lay in my bed and waited for the thick, sweet feeling to wash over me, for that unreal semi-conscious state where the story begins and takes on a life of its own and all you have to do is close your eyes and give in and let go and give in and let go and go and go and go.
I don't care how you grew up, whether you were from a small town or a farm or the burbs or the big city. If you are or were a teenager, and ever questioned your sanity and that of the people around you, then you should read this book.
Despite my disappointment at the way Mennonites are portrayed, and despite the lack of quotation marks in conversations, I rate "A Complicated Kindness" a FIVE JOHN DEERE TRACTOR rating, even though Nomi Nickel herself would probably be mortified!