A Complicated Kindness Paperback – May 1 2007
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A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews's third novel, is a very funny book about going AWOL in Mennonite country. Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel lives with her depressingly cheerful dad Ray on the edge of East Village--not the hip one in New York City where she would prefer to be but a small, backward Mennonite town in Manitoba ruled by a pious pastor whom Nomi calls The Mouth. Several years before, Nomi's rebellious older sister, Tash, left town on the back of her rocker boyfriend's motorcycle. Not long afterwards, her mother, Trudi, also disappeared for reasons never fully disclosed. As Nomi explains at the outset, "Half of our family, the better-looking half, is missing."
As Nomi drives endlessly about the countryside with her own Lou Reed-loving boyfriend and puts off finishing an assignment for her oddly attentive English teacher, she pieces together her childhood memories in an effort to understand why she and Ray have been deserted. Toews's portrayal of teenage angst, Mennonite-style, is hilarious. East Village, Nomi observes, "was created as a kind of no-frills bunker in which to live austerely, shun wrongdoers and kill some time, and joy, before the Rapture." Regarding the pleasures of the next world, she quips, "I guess we'll be able to float around asking people to punch us in the stomach as hard as they can and not experience any pain, which could be fun for one afternoon." Nomi's steady patter of repartee and reminiscences grows a bit tiresome after a while, especially as this is a novel in which very little happens until the last 50 pages. Toews can't seem to resist a good one-liner, even at the expense of plot. For a light summer read with laugh-out-loud potential, however, A Complicated Kindness is the ticket. --Lisa Alward --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
A 16-year-old rebels against the conventions of her strict Mennonite community and tries to come to terms with the collapse of her family in this insightful, irreverent coming-of-age novel. In bleak rural Manitoba, Nomi longs for her older sister, Tash ("she was so earmarked for damnation it wasn't even funny"), and mother, Trudie, each of whom has recently fled fundamentalist Christianity and their town. Her gentle, uncommunicative father, Ray, isn't much of a sounding board as Nomi plunges into bittersweet memory and grapples with teenage life in a "kind of a cult with pretend connections to some normal earthly conventions." Once a "curious, hopeful child" Nomi now relies on biting humor as her life spins out of control—she stops attending school, shaves her head and wanders around in a marijuana-induced haze—while Ray sells off most of their furniture, escapes on all-night drives and increasingly withdraws into himself. Still, she and Ray are linked in a tender, if fragile, partnership as each slips into despair. Though the narration occasionally unravels into distracting stream of consciousness, the unsentimental prose and the poignant character interactions sustain reader interest. Bold, tender and intelligent, this is a clear-eyed exploration of belief and belonging, and the irresistible urge to escape both.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The narrator, Nomi, writes near the beginning: "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 that would reduce our suffering by a lifetime. My guidance counsellor has suggested to me that I change my attitude about this place and learn to love it. But I do, I told her. Oh, that's rich, she said. That's rich."
Nomi chafes against the inflexibility and lack of forgiveness in many members of her religious community, but as she struggles to understand the undercurrents which have driven her mother and elder sister into the void beyond the town, she begins to be able to tap into the honesty of her family to imagine something bigger and better than the only place she knows. "I have a problem with endings," she writes, and she cannot satisfy her English teacher by drawing her essays to a neat close. In the same way, she can't seem to accept her pastor uncle's neat package of rigid definitions explaining her existence, with no mysteries or forgiveness for weakness. When a nurse at the hospital criticises her invalid friend Lydia for being so needy, Nomi objects 'But isn't that what a hosp...(ital is for?)" When the church throws out a man for being unable to overcome alcoholism, the reader wants to ask, "But isn't that what a church community is for?Read more ›
I loved the way the novel was written. The jumpy, sometimes confusing style reflects the way a young girl would tell a story. Listen to how teenage girls speak- Toews nailed it. It isn't the story of a grown woman looking back on her childhood, it would have spoiled the story had it been written in an adult tone.
The novel struck a chord with me as my family was disowned by the Mennonite community about 60 years ago. I had always wondered what it would have been like if I had been raised a Mennonite. This novel did a wonderful job of answering a lot of my questions. It's hilarious and heart-breaking at the same time. Oh, so highly recommended!
Most recent customer reviews
Loved the book , laughed cried and brought back a ton of memories of sorts !!Published 3 months ago by laurie reynolds
Boring book. Filled with faux teenager perspective. Thank Catcher in the Rye meets The Scarlet Letter. Abysmal.Published 11 months ago by Mr. T. Pickering
A disjointed and pointless book. A poor read with little or no obvious plot.Published 14 months ago by Leon Layden
I'm surprised that this book won a Governor General's literary award and was a Giller Prize finalist. Read morePublished 15 months ago by SoulFanGranny
I found the language too rough from someone with the author's background. I also got the feeling the author is/was ashamed of her background/history. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Daniel Entz
I've read A Complicated Kindness three times and I think I could read it again.Published 17 months ago by Gemma
I thought that the book was scattered.For me, it was not an enjoyable read. Finished the book and still wondering what it was aboutPublished 21 months ago by cassie edison-huntley
I thought this book was good. It was entertaining, and yet the feel of it was kind of depressing. Entertaining with the dark humour, (too dark for my tastes), as well as the... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Andrew Tomlinson