A Complicated Kindness
Miriam Toews
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A Complicated Kindness

Miriam Toews
Counterpoint Press
253 pages
September 2005
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars
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The word "Mennonite" brings forth for many a picture of a quaint culture - butter churns and bonnets, draft horses and long skirts - just like in the fake village Nomi Nickels describes, the one American tourists keep in business. Sixteen-year-old Nomi is full of teenage angst with a number of twists: her upbringing as a Mennonite, a sister and mother missing in the action of life, and a father who tries to make sense and order of things even to the point of going to the town dump and arranging the refuse in logical piles.

Her struggle to adulthood is haunted by the fear that she will be trapped at Happy Family Farm slaughtering chickens once she leaves school, and by the loss of first her sister who runs away with a boyfriend, then her mother, who leaves shortly thereafter. She counts their absences in the number of menstrual periods she's had since they left, but what is really bleeding is her heart. Wanting to believe in the faith of her father, she finds a moment's solace in drink and drugs.

The story is a familar one told in a uniquely Canadian way, touching and humorous. Toews, who owes much to A Catcher in the Rye, was justly awarded the Govenor General's literary award for her work. Nomi has both a universal appeal but is no one's cardboard cutout of teenage agony. A great read; I give it three and a half stars.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. Pamela Crossland, 2005

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