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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.
"Miriam Toews, the award winning Canadian author, embodies Nomi's voice with such an authentic and manic charm that it's hard not to fall in love with her... A Complicated Kindness captures the struggles of a family and its individuals in a fresh, wondrous style. Despite this complexity of family tensions, much of A Complicated Kindness is pleasantly plotless. The looseness of Nomi's worldview, the sometimes blurry nonfocus of it, the unexpected sideways humor, make this book the beautiful and bitter little masterpiece it is."
“Poignant....Bold, tender and intelligent, this is a clear-eyed exploration of belief and belonging, and the irresistible urge to escape both.”
“Wise, edgy, unforgettable, the heroine of Miriam Toews’s knockout novel is Canada’s next classic.”
—Globe and Mail Books section cover
“A Complicated Kindness is just that: funny and strange, spellbinding and heartbreaking, this novel is a complicated kindness from a terrifically talented writer.”
“Why the compulsion to laugh so often and so heartily when reading A Complicated Kindness? That's the book's mystery and its miracle. Has any of our novelists ever married, so brilliantly, the funny — and I mean posture-damaging, shoulder-heaving, threaten- the- grip- of- gravity- on- recently- ingested- food brand of funny — and the desperately sad —that would be the three-ply- tissue, insufficient- to- the- day, who- knew- I- had- this- much- snot- in- me brand of sad? I don't think so.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Truly wonderful…. A Complicated Kindness is…one of the year's exuberant reads. Toews recreates the stultifying world of an exasperated Mennonite teenager in a small town where nothing happens with mesmerizing authenticity. . . . Toews seduces the reader with her tenderness, astute observation and piquant humour. But then she turns the laughs she’s engendered in the reader like a knife.”
“Right away we’re hooked on our narrator’s [Nomi’s] mournful smarts….A Complicated Kindness is affecting, impeccably written, and has real authority, but most of all it is immediate. You — as they say — are there….like waking up in a crazy Bible camp, or witnessing an adolescent tour guide tear off her uniform and make a break for the highway.”
—Quill & Quire
“...knockout novel. …There’s leave-taking in this book. But there’s wholeness, too. It is a joy.”
—Jennifer Wells, Toronto Star
“Now comes A Complicated Kindness, in which Toews’ deft hand combines aspects of her previous subjects — love, small-town politics, rigid religious parameters, depression, — and comes up with something completely new.”
—Leslie Beaton Hedley, Calgary Herald
“A Complicated Kindness struck me like a blow to the solar plexus. Toews, somewhat like Mordecai Richler, makes you feel the pain of her protagonist while elucidating the predicament of her people, always mixing a large dose of empathy with her iconoclastic sense of the ridiculous. When she’s funny, she’s wickedly so. But the book has a dark, disturbing side to it that grows stronger as the story progresses.”
—Pat Donnelly, The Gazette (Montreal)
“In novel full of original characters…Toews has created a feisty but appealing young heroine…. As an indictument against religious fundamentalism, A Complicated Kindness is timely. As a commentary on character it is fresh and inventive, and as storytelling it is first rate.”
—The London Free Press
“Toew’s offers up a wickedly funny new voice…. Nomi is wickedly funny, irreverent, intelligent and compassionate. Toews masteres the character’s voice and never allows her own to intrude."
—Fast Forward Weekly (Calgary)
“A Complicated Kindness works its way up to a powerful ending through the accumulation of anecdote and detail…. Toew’s sense of the absurd works brilliantly to expose the hypocrisy of fundamentalist kindness, a love in reality all too conditional…. A Complicated Kindness, at its core, is a depiction of the battle between hope and despair … yet along the way we are treated to an unforgettable summer with a heroine who loses everything but it s ultimately able to hold on to life, to a sense of herself, and to maintain her courage and optimism In the face of a world without any guaranteed happy endings.”
“A Complicated Kindness…looks like a breakthrough…. It is narrated by a deastating ly funny and heartbreakingly bewildered young woman named Nomi.”
—The Bookseller (mcnallyrobinson.com)
“This book is as good as anything out there at the moment. But don’t take my word for it, take the word of your fellow citizens: It’s hit numerous Canadian bestseller lists…. [T]his is a well-crafted, witty, sardonic and ultimately sad look inside the world of Mennonites as they exist in East Village, Manitoba.”
“From time to time…we are reminded of what we once saw in this cockamamie enterprise. Along comes book that stands out from the crowd. A Complicated Kindness is just such a book…. Miriam Toews of Winnipeg has delivered a new novel that has us all buzzing…. Ray is a wonderful character….Miriam Toews tells her sometimes harrowing, often very funny story with total confidence. You’ll car about Nomi and Ray and you won’t want it to end. I promise…. It’s a very different book, but A Complicated Kindness might be this year’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.”
—University of Toronto Bookstore Review
“The narrative voice is so strong, it could carry the last eventful, least weird adolescence in the world and still be as transfixing…. Toew’s novel is a wonderfully acute, moving, warm, sceptical, frustrated portrait of fundamentalist religion…. The book is fascinating, and resonant, and inexorable…”
—Saturday’s Guardian (UK)
“A Complicated Kindness is a delight from beginning to end. The humour might be of the blackest sort ('People here just can't wait to die, it seems. It's the main event.'), but the cumulative effect is liberating and defiantly joyful.”
“In Miriam Toews' agreeably off-kilter novel, A Complicated Kindness, the sanguineous and sanguine are combined in Nomi Nickel.”
"One of my favourite books so far this year is A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. ... (A) sweet, sad, hilarious novel ... The voice Miriam Toews has created for Nomi is utterly unique and absolutely convincing, and her adolescence in 'the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you're a teenager' is at times painfully funny, and at others just painful."
—Suzie Doore, Booksellers Choice, The Bookseller
"Nomi is a wonderful narrator ... Original and poignant, with exquisite tone."
—Juliet Fleming, Booksellers Choice, The Bookseller
"Canadian writer's UK debut, the story of a teenage girl growing up in Manitoba in an obscure religious sect, who narrates her story in a lovely voice, fresh and funny."
—Star Ratings, The Bookseller
Advance Praise for A Complicated Kindness:
"It is a complicated kindness indeed that gives us this book. Miriam Toews has written a novel shot through with aching sadness, the spectre of loss, and unexpected humor. You want to reach inside and save 16-year-old Nomi Nickel, send her the money for a plane ticket to New York, get her a cab to CBGB's on the Bowery and somehow introduce her to Lou Reed. It might seem an odd metaphor to use about someone who has authored such a vivid, anguished indictment of religious fundamentalism, but Miriam Toews writes like an angel."
—David Rakoff, author of Fraud
"The narrator of this novel, Nomi Nickel, is wonderful. She scrapes away the appearances in her small town and offers what she finds in a voice that is wry, vulnerable, sacrilegious and, best of all, devastatingly funny. This is Miriam Toews at her best."
—David Bergen, author of The Case of Lena S.
Praise for Miriam Toews:
“A Boy of Good Breeding broke unexpectedly through critical armour and caught me at the throat, made me laugh and weep with sad-sweet joy. . . . This novel is tonic for the spirit: a charming, deeply moving, unerringly human story, perfectly shaped and beautifully told.”
—The Globe and Mail
“The father’s narration she invented, so expressive and powerful in its understatement, comes across as entirely true in the telling. . . . Toews’ novelistic skills (the award-winning comic novels Summer of My Amazing Luck and A Boy of Good Breeding) are richly apparent in her evocative characterizations and in the deft drama of the narrative.”
“Delightfully humorous, subversive and naughtily clever. . . . Brava, Miriam Toews.”
From 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 9 months ago by laurie reynolds
Boring book. Filled with faux teenager perspective. Thank Catcher in the Rye meets The Scarlet Letter. Abysmal.Published 16 months ago by Mr. T. Pickering
A disjointed and pointless book. A poor read with little or no obvious plot.Published 20 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 20 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 21 months ago by Daniel Entz
I've read A Complicated Kindness three times and I think I could read it again.Published 22 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 on April 28 2014 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 on April 24 2014 by Andrew Tomlinson