Book Review: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

Book Review: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

The following was all I knew about A Complicated Kindness before reading it: It received honors, it’s about Mennonites, and the author is from Manitoba. These three pieces of information came together in my mind to create the following vision of the book: a severe novel about religion (Mennonite), a literary book in the sense of style (award-winning), and about life in a tiny town (Manitoban). You may infer something about my mental state from the fact that I wanted to read such a book.

What do I discover in the actual book? My version of “A Complicated Kindness Review” includes easy writing from the viewpoint of a teen girl. Brief sentences Fragments. Drug use, rock music, idle driving, cigarette smoking, and daydreaming about New York. Yes, it is religiously severe, but more intelligently than Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Intense, humorous, and desperate. For a broader perspective, download a complicated kindness pdf.

A Complicated Kindness is a novel without a storyline in the conventional sense. It was written by a young Mennonite named Nomi Nickel in a tiny hamlet in Manitoba close to the US border in the early 1980s. The progressive disclosure of family and personal secrets and the reader’s immersion in a certain mindset propel the narrative so that, by the book’s conclusion, you will understand the significance of its title.

She is successful to the extent that you can sense what Toews means when she says “complex.” Despite not being my favorite style, I couldn’t help but become engrossed. I once started bawling while reading it at a café during my lunch break. I’ve been crying a lot lately. It was the scene where Nomi’s sister was finally seen departing.

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You are surrounded by a particular worldview—Mennonite—and more inclusive—small-town. The only fact I know about Mennonites is that they are one of the more conservative subgroups of Protestantism. You see the value of adhering to doctrine and how pervasive religion is in daily life. Unfortunately, the Mennonites are not given the best representation in this book.

The novel also looks at life in tiny towns. It reminded me of Wyoming’s small towns and the depressing small-town mentality prevalent in North America. Many Americans and Canadians I’ve encountered over the years who have lived there have discussed the same emotion. A Complicated Kindness is a fantastic novel about small-town life.

Ray, Nomi’s father, is a teacher, and Trudie, her mother, is multi-talented. Tash is Nomi’s elder sister. Due to their rebellious natures, Trudie and Tash fled independently. Throughout the novel, we learn how their family ended themselves in this situation and how it affects Nomi and Ray. The slow descent of Nomi into drug addiction and self-destruction is shown, as is Ray’s suppressed, perplexed, and ineffective response to everything.

Although the writing style initially turned me off, Toews’ fire and tenacity won me over. Look at an example of a typical passage: “But for now, he was tripping because our house had been fired at and things were how they should be, as he had thought they had been all along. This allowed him to unwind and get rid of items weighing him down. While glass shards fell on the living room carpet and I gave him a foolish scowl, he continued to utter cheesy things. I have no idea why. It is an action. When something odd occurs, and we are unsure of how to respond, we do this.

The man who said it is an intriguing person named Ray. He is willfully suppressed. He drives hundreds of kilometers in the middle of the night, always wears a suit and tie, chats to people about how fascinating radiation is, and manages the local waste but is slow to react if he reacts. There are a lot of heartbreaking scenes between Ray and Nomi. They converse somewhat and have some connection, but it’s not enough.

Nomi isn’t by nature as rebellious as her mother or sister, but she also doesn’t fit in with the church or the community. She is a committed individual who finds it difficult to accept her loss of religion, separation from her family, and living in an empty small-town Mennonite community.

But there is compassion here, a problematic tenderness, says Nomi early in the book. Sometimes, when someone looks at you and is speechless, you can see it in their eyes. For instance, when people ask me how my dad is, they mean to ask how I’m doing without my mother. If I’m not incorrect, Toews never again refers to “a difficult kindness,” but she has already planted the concept in the reader’s mind. Your search for this tough act of generosity, and by the time it’s through, you realize how hollow it was toward Nomi.


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