A slightly edited version of this review appears at The Rumpus I started reading A Complicated Kindness on my last day in Barcelona I ran away to Barcelona because of a girl Also I d been grumpy and mopey for the previous month or so, due to the whole uncertain future thing, so really the whole disappointment with the girl just kind of tipped me over the edge I figured I could fritter my money away while moping in Edinburgh, or I could fritter it away travelling.I d never really bothered to read any blurb about the book because I knew John K Samson liked it and that was enough for me It turned out that it was nothing like whatever I assumed from the title or the cover.It s about Nomi, a sixteen year old in a Mennonite community in rural Canada She lives with her father, who s one of the nicest fictional fathers I ve ever encountered Her mother and sister left three years ago and haven t been heard from since Nomi and her father are both kind of struggling along and both doing kind of weird things, which seems like a reasonable reaction to a fucked up situation in a place where God isimportant than family Nomi isn t a believer anyand she drinks and takes drugs and hangs out with her boyfriend and gets into trouble at school She has insomnia and frequently wanders the town at night and does unpredictable things.I always love teen angst This book really kind of brings it home, because it s not just ordinary teen angst, you know, my life is so hard why won t he notice me, it captures the despair and the frustration of not having any control, especially when you re in a place where American tourists come to gawp at how quaint you all are It s no wonder Nomi is so cynical.Then there s the religion stuff When her sister left, Nomi was inconsolable, believing her sister would go to hell I remember that kind of worry from my own Christian indoctrination It was really tough to get your head around, that people you loved were going to hell, no matter how nice they were, if they didn t accept Jesus as their personal saviour.And I love all the bits where Nomi is just wandering aimlessly and examining the thoughts in her own head Sometimes she invents games to play to keep herself occupied, like today I m going to say goodbye to everyone I see, and pretend I m leaving town.At the moment I am really relating to all her restlessness, because I feel like I can t stay in Edinburgh forthan two days without getting twitchy, and I m not sure what s up with that I try being restless in different locations like the bath or the futon, but that s not very exciting, and it s too goddamn cold to wander the streets I talked to Alice two days ago She was like I just can t be bothered meeting new people these days, you know And I was like yeah, I know I mean, pretty much every time I walk down the street I check people out, right But these days I just think, oh, you look cool, but you re probably actually really pretentious or boring or vacant or obnoxious or immature or whatever So there isn t even any point in looking at people any .So that s kind of where I m at and why I liked this book right now and if you relate to any of that maybe it will work for you too. it was hard to let this book end as the remaining pages dwindled and dwindled, i foundandthings to do instead of reading maybe i should brush my teeth maybe i should check my email maybe i should sleep even though i have ONE PAGE TO GO.part of it is that miriam toews is a genius at creating truly compelling characters nomi is a gas nomi is the kid you always wanted to be funny, smart, sassy, resourceful, a world champion bullshit detector, unbelievably creative, sweet, loving, rebellious but without angst, uncontrollable but without malice, vulnerable and tough and vulnerable again she s your ideal sister, your best friend, your most treasured child nomi is perfection.another part of it is that miriam toews writes like god she does she puts thoughts in nomi s mind nomi is the first person narrator that make your jaw drop and your heart beat fastfastfast, they are so beautiful and original and crazy every line is poetry everything that goes through nomi s mind is poetry at first, this book was hard to make out you see, toews drops us right in the middle of nomi s most hellish years in her ber hellish mennonite town, a canadian wasteland of a place designed to strip its denizens of all joy and pleasure so that they ll better appreciate the rewards of eternal life which doesn t make a lick of sense because if eternal life is truly what it s cut out to be we won t need any help at all to find it absolutely fabulous plus, quite frankly, this life manages to be rough enough without any encouragement whatsoever but the leader of the local mennonite community doesn t see it this way, and this throws the whole town in a heightened state of schizophrenic behavior while going to church and acting according to menno s principles, they find ways to curb the bleakness by getting drunk, getting stoned, and fucking each other crazy especially the kids when they get caught or when their insubordination becomes too egregious to ignore they get excommunicated, which means that the entire community, including their families, must act as if they no longer exist this absurd and cruel fact proves essential to the way the novel develops, and gives the characters occasion to show each other the complicated but by no means negligible kindness that gives the novel its title as you can imagine, there s not a little heartbreak in all this disappearing nomi and her dad, who are the two family members left at the moment the novel begins, wade through the sadness, the hopelessness, and the desolation with a reciprocal tenderness that is all thetouching for being muted, unspoken, and very reserved neither quite understands the other, and they both live extremely independent lives ray is not quite a parent in the way we understand parenting , but they love each other and support each other and ultimately quite literally live for each other since all of this bleakness and despair and love reaches us through nomi s words, there are many moments of maximum, laugh out loud hilarity this hilarity, and the complicated kindness i described, make this novel absolutely delightful and original and a masterpiece of the human mind i m using schizophrenic the way it s commonly used, with full awareness that people diagnosed with schizophrenia don t perceive things this way at all. In This Stunning Coming Of Age Novel, Award Winner Miriam Toews Balances Grief And Hope In The Voice Of A Witty, Beleaguered Teenager Whose Family Is Shattered By Fundamentalist Christianity Half Of Our Family, The Better Looking Half, Is Missing, Nomi Nickel Tells Us At The Beginning Of A Complicated Kindness Left Alone With Her Sad, Peculiar Father, Her Days Are Spent Piecing Together Why Her Mother And Sister Have Disappeared And Contemplating Her Inevitable Career At Happy Family Farms, A Chicken Slaughterhouse On The Outskirts Of East Village Not The East Village In New York City Where Nomi Would Prefer To Live, But An Oppressive Town Founded By Mennonites On The Cold, Flat Plains Of Manitoba, CanadaThis Darkly Funny Novel Is The World According To The Unforgettable Nomi, A Bewildered And Wry Sixteen Year Old Trapped In A Town Governed By Fundamentalist Religion And In The Shattered Remains Of A Family It Destroyed In Nomi S Droll, Refreshing Voice, We Re Told The Story Of An Eccentric, Loving Family That Falls Apart As Each Member Lands On A Collision Course With The Only Community Any Of Them Have Ever Known A Work Of Fierce Humor And Tragedy By A Writer Who Has Taken The American Market By Storm, This Searing, Tender, Comic Testament To Family Love Will Break Your Heart Miriam Toews goes deep into the arcane world of Canadian Mennonite teens for the shocking expose that they enjoy pot and fucking Well pot anyway You think you live in a civilized society but women are reporting that the best case scenario for their first times is still disappointing I don t know what we re going to do about that Start giving teenage boys vibrating cock rings Anyway, file book this under Semi autobiographical memoirs dispatched from unusual situations, which is a wide and fruitful genre They come in a variety of tones, from harrowing to harrowing but funny, and this is one of your funnier ones It s super funny. Toews comes at everything sideways she keeps finding angles you hadn t thought of Her protagonist Nomi Nickles is the sort of person likely to have an imaginary friend who hates her Later, she debates going on the pill I lay there imagining what it would be like to have another human being growing inside me Would it panic As many times as people have talked about pregnancy in our world, I ve never heard that question Kids, she says The way they react to everything like they re alive The story takes place in two timelines, both before and after the decampments of Nomi s older sister and mother Nomi is a tween in the first and a teen in the last There is something of a mystery where did they go, and why, and why didn t they take Nomi or her father with them The two remaining Nickles try to stagger on He wears a lot of ties She cooks her way through the alphabet Tonight it s Minestrone and Meatballs She tries to understand her mother s decision There was something seething away inside of her, something fierce and unpredictable, like a saw in a birthday cake They re Mennonites, which I was only dimly aware of what those even are they re like Amish people but even weirder Their life options seem to consist mostly of being shunned that s where the whole town ghosts you because your bonnet was slutty or whatever or working at chicken murder factories.She tells this perfect story her family goes fishing, takes shelter on an island during a rainstorm, their boat floats away They re trapped They may be there forever It feels like an adventure They make Swiss Family Robinson jokes when the rain dies down, they manage to build a fire Suddenly their boat comes bobbing back The thing that you re not supposed to admit is that everyone is a little disappointed One understands intellectually that adventures aren t as fun in real life as they are in books But the dream of the exciting adventure a Swiss Family, a club in the East Village with Lou Reed, a first time that isn t disappointing is hard to let go, especially when reality is so very lame The chicken murder factory looms Anything seems preferable. some people can leave and some can t and those who can will always be infinitely cooler than those who can t and I m one of the ones who can t because you re one of the ones who did and there s this old guy in a wool suit sitting in an empty house who has no one but me now thank you very, very, very muchSmall towns pretty much suck Small towns in rural Manitoba in wintertime blow chunks But imagine a small town in rural Manitoba in wintertime that is not just small, it is populated by hardline Mennonites who dictate acceptable behavior and punish those who step out of line with communal shunning Those who can leave, do like Nomi Nickel s older sister Tash and her mother The aftermath of their abandonment is the focus of this darkly comic coming of age tale The setting and themes reflect Toews s own adolescence, which was spent in a rural Canadian Mennonite town Nomi and her depressed schoolteacher father Ray muddle through somehow, with half hearted dinners and swipes at crumbs on the counter It is an existence, but not much of a life Nomi seems resigned to working at the chicken processing plant that is the town s economic mainstay after graduation and by the end of the book, the reader does, too It seems all but inescapable Nomi has wit, determination, a boyfriend who sleeps with her under the stars and a best friend slowly dying from a series of maladies It is through her interactions with friends and her father that the young woman s compassion and hope, all relayed in Toews s flinty, unflinching prose, come to vivid life A tourist once came up to me and took a picture and said to her husband, now here s a priceless juxtaposition of old and new They debated the idea of giving me some money, then concluded no.I speak English, I said The artificial village and the chicken evisceration plant a few miles down the road are our main industries On hot nights when the wind is right, the smell of blood and feathers tucks us in like an evil parent There are no bars or visible exits. Nomi s quirky, self effacing narration warms this otherwise bleak tale of misfits and moralists A Complicated Kindness is a complicated book, but worth the bittersweet anxiety for the hope that blooms in the end. I m going to refer to this as thechicken bookRequired school reading And I have finally completed thechicken book With books that I must read for school, I m often at a loss when I m asked how I feel about thempersonallyI don t know how I feel about the book, I don t know how I feel about the characters, and I don t know how I feel about the ending But I do think we all have a bit of Nomi in us Nomi s a snarky, sarcastic, confused sixteen year old girl who s just trying to find her place in life and seeing the very in depth details of her Mennonite village from her eyes really awakened something in me I find myself relating to Nomi quite a bit, okay maybe not the part where her mother and sister ran away, or the part where she smokes cigarettes religiously, or the part where she lives in a house where the furniture keeps diminishing, but the part where Nomi is just plain, old, lost Nomi I m being generous with my rating here and it s not because the book is bad, it s because I was expectingfrom it and I was disappointed I never really got the answers to my questions maybe that s supposed to be some ingenious writing style but pahleez, save that for the critics, this girl is just here to readIs it wrong to trust in a beautiful lie if it helps you get through life This book was actually hilarious in many ways Nomi has this dark humour thing about her where she likes to focus things that everyone else disregards and then twists it into some sarcastic remark I quite like Nomi.But I felt the ending was lacking, my questions weren t answered, I was only leftconfused, and nothing was really tied together I m gonna have to go make some character sketches now and philosophize about the themes and writing styles that were used in this book, but as a girl who just likes to read for fun, this book was surprisinglythan I expectedI wondered if a disease were to be named after me what the symptoms would be 2.75 stars Governor General s Award 2004Shortlisted for Giller 2006Winner Canada Reads 2006Half way through reading A Complicated Kindness it struck me that the only way Miriam Toews could write in such an authentic voice would be if she herself had grown up in a Mennonite community Sure enough, Miriam WAS raised Mennonite in small town Steinbach, Manitoba There was a Mennonite Village Museum there when she grew up That is taken right out of my life, she says in an Interview with Dave Weich Nov 8, 2004 Powells.com It was a pioneer village I worked there, too I knew all about the history but I think I just took it for granted I returned to reading A Complicated Kindness without losing one iota of enthusiasm or admiration Miriam may have taken a real life experience straight to her novel, but 16 year old Nomi Nickel became a larger than life character in her own right This is a coming of age story set during the late 1970 s and early 1980 s, told in the first person by Nomi Her mother and older sister left three years earlier and haven t been heard from since, so the narrative includes a series of flashbacks about life before they left In the present, Nomi rebels against the conventions of the Mennonite community Her behaviour is considered reckless by her ruling Uncle Hans, a zealot known as The Mouth We learn all about what is not allowed in a Mennonite community and how it feels to belong to the most embarrassing sub sect of people if you re a teenager Not only that, but another of Nomi s reasons for despair is revealed when she reflects, People here just can t wait to die, it seems It s the main event The only reason we re not all snuffed at birth is because it would reduce our suffering by a lifetime This is but one glimpse of the dark humour inherent in the story.Having recently read and reviewed The Flying Troutmans, I was reminded of this previous book In both stories, Miriam Toews sweeps the reader into worlds both familiar and unfamiliar, evoking emotions that travel the full spectrum. I hated it was my loud outburst when a nice polite dinner conversation with friends turned to the discussion of this book My outburst surprised me, not because it was loud and obnoxious since I am often guilty of being both, but because I didn t know that I had such passion for this book I had no idea I hated it until the words came tumbling out of my mouth Until that time, I think I would have described my thoughts about the book as ambivalent I found the whole thing to be rather tedious Now, I am not someone who needs a juicy plot to get me to fall in love with a book The Catcher in the Rye is a favourite of mine although this might bedue to nostalgia then anything else but, this book had a lot going on, without plot or point I felt like the story was tumbleweed bouncing around in a ghost town on a journey, but ultimately going nowhere But didn t you love Nomi my friend asked with a distressed tone Quite simply, no I didn t I found her to be absolutely dull Her town was dull, her thoughts were dull and her life was dull And, maybe this was the author s whole point That we were to feel the excruciating internal pain that dullness brings The only thing is, like most times things get monotonous to me, I acted out Of course, I had to do this in the only way you can when dealing with a book, by giving it a timeout on the bookshelf.Picking this book up again a month later, I struggled to make it to the end Sad to say though, it did not get any better So, although my kindness to this book is complicated, I give it two stars the first, because I have to and the second because the book surprisingly made me passionate Ultimately, I am thankful that I was not born into such a culture and that I easily could escape Nomi s life by simply closing the book. What a bittersweet story this is The narrator is a lost and confused soul, trapped in a situation that is not of her own making But she also has such an amusing way of looking at the world I rooted for her as I read, hoping that she could find some kind of way out of the predicament she was in.Nomi Nickel is a sixteen year old girl living in the fictional Mennonite community of East Village, somewhere in Canada Her family has recently been torn apart her older sister Tash ran away to the city with a local guy and her mother Trudie has left home under mysterious circumstances It s just Nomi and her gentle, uncommunicative Dad that are trying to hold things together And it s not at all easy living in such a restricted neighbourhood There is little to do for people of Nomi s age, with regular distractions like Starbucks and McDonalds banned And there is always the frightening threat of excommunication for anyone who diverges from the church s beliefs Nomi takes up with a boy named Travis and starts to rebel against the repressive system that has its stranglehold on the town.Nomi s complex relationship with her parents is what defines the story Tasha s exit was no great surprise, but Trudie s sudden, unexplained departure has left her bereft and perplexed She looks back on memories of their time together for clues And she recalls that though her mother was mostly a cheerful, good natured person,there was always something seething away inside of her, something fierce and unpredictable, like a saw in a birthday cakeNomi would surely leave town too but she can t bear to have her dear old Dad fend for himself The aura of their house is now one ofhushed resignationHer uncle asks her father how he is and he repliesOh, unexceptional Living quietly with my disappointments And how are you It s not all doom and gloom Nomi has a wicked sense of humour, especially when she makes fun of the community s strict rules and austere outlook I know that Miriam Toews grew up in a Mennonite sect herself, so there is nobodyqualified to comment on its problems than her There isn t a whole lot of plot it s mostly a teenage girl with a huge weight on her shoulders, trying to figure life out And it s all written in the tragicomic style that Toews does so well A Complicated Kindness is a coming of age story with a difference sharp, sardonic and undeniably moving. As I read Miriam Toews A Complicated Kindness, I couldn t stop thinking about Richard Dawkins assertion that religion is child abuse.Looking around at our neighbours and friends, ourselves and our parents, it is easy to laugh off this idea We may see our churches doing good works in the community they may be providing relief for Haiti or some other disaster struck land they may be providing shelter for the homeless or the physically abused their beliefs and morality may be providing guidance to people around us so yes, there are a number of good things that churches can do, which makes it easy to scoff at the idea that religion is inherently abusive Perhaps it is too easy to scoff, though.A Complicated Kindness is all about how a church and its beliefs abuse a congregation but specifically how the ideas of Menno Simons and his modern Mennonite followers destroy the Nickel family.Nomi, her sister Tash, her mother Trudie, and her father Ray lose everything because of their religion They lose each other, they lose themselves, they lose their sanity, and they are forced to make their way in the world or not despite the irreparable damage done to them by the belief system they were born into None of them chose to be Mennonites They were born Mennonite, raised Mennonite, and destroyed Mennonite Their religion was abusive in the worst possible ways, and as I loved Nomiand , as I came closer to her pain through her fragmented stream of consciousness, as my anger rose, I started to accept Dawkins point in a way I d never allowed myself before.But Dawkins is not the only one calling religion abusive he is not alone in his opposition Nicholas Humphrey, author of The Mind Made Flesh, argues that, in the same way as Amnesty International works tirelessly to free political prisoners the world over, we should work to free the children of the world from the religions which, with parental approval, damage minds too young to understand what is happening to them Miriam Toews beautifully sad story brought me one step closer to agreeing with the assertions of these men I only wish I had enjoyed the storythan I did Although I am sure I wasn t supposed to leave it with a smile, I would like to have left it with something other than a deep depression.
www.openletters.net and were profiled on the radio show This American Life in an episode about missing parents.In 2007 she made her screen debut in the Mexican film Luz silenciosa directed by Carlos Reygadas, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival.In Sept 2008, Knopf Canada published her novel The Flying Troutmans , about a 28 year old woman from Manitoba who takes her 15 year old nephew and 11 year old niece on a road trip to California after their mentally ill mother has been hospitalized.The book, Irma Voth, was released in April 2011 Her latest book, All My Puny Sorrows, was published in April 2014.For information see
- 253 pages
- A Complicated Kindness
- Miriam Toews
- 21 March 2019 Miriam Toews