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All My Puny Sorrows – Miriam Toews

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“Nobody moves away from Winnipeg, especially to Toronto, and escapes condemnation. It’s like the opposite of the Welcome Wagon. It’s like leaving the Crips for the Bloods.”

“I’m at an age where I’m stuck between two generations, one using the term “getting laid” and the other “hooking up,” so what are you supposed to call it?”

“Yeah but apologies are what keep us civilized, I said and she said no, not at all, apologies allow for all sorts of brutality.”

“Living with my mother is like living with Winnie the Pooh. She has many adventures, getting herself into and out of trouble guilelessly, and all of these adventures are accompanied by a few lines of gentle philosophy. There’s always a little bit more to learn every time you get your head stuck in a honey pot if you’re my mother.”

“She asked me if I’d read to her from it and I said no. Just a paragraph? No. A sentence? No. Half a sentence! One word? No. A letter? I said okay, that I would read the first letter of the novel. She smiled and closed her eyes and sort of burrowed into her bed like she was preparing herself for a delicious treat. I asked her if she was ready and she nodded, still smiling, eyes closed. I stood and cleared my throat, and paused and then began to read. L. She sighed and lifted her chin to the ceiling, opened her eyes and told me it was beautiful, BEAUTIFUL, and true, the best thing I’d written yet. I thanked her and shoved the page back into the plastic Safeway bag. “

Okay, I know… a LOT of quotes this week, so you know what that means. Miram Toews has done it again with All My Puny Sorrows.

What. A. Great. Book.

I have read two other books by her over the years and I am always blown away by her writing style, and the simple beauty of her stories. Her characters are real people that you can understand and relate to, and when they mess up they don’t mess up in a contrived or predictably fictional way; they mess up in a real human way that is so honest it gives you empathy goosebumps, yet still manages to make you laugh at the same time. Her writing is flawless. I don’t even know where to begin… I guess I’ll start with the publisher’s synopsis:

You won’t forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking. 

But Elf’s latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Her long-time agent has been calling and neither Yoli nor Elf’s loving husband knows what to tell him. Can she be nursed back to “health” in time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life.

It is incredibly difficult for an author to tackle subjects like mental illness, sexual promiscuity, suicide, religion, women’s rights, and depression, and not do it in a way that is preachy, or heavy, or just generally over the top. However, Toews does it, and she does it extraordinarily well. After I had finished reading this one, I did a bit of research and discovered that many, if not most of the events in this book were taken directly from her real life experiences. While this makes my heart hurt for what she’s had to go through in life, I am so appreciative of her willingness to bare her soul. It allows her story to have such an intimate and authentic voice that it removes a lot of the social taboo surrounding these controversial issues, and allows
the reader to focus on the meat and potatoes of the protagonist’s journey and process. It was only once I wiped one last laugh/cry tear from my cheek and closed the book that I truly understood the sentence,”… just because someone is eating the ashes of your protagonist doesn’t mean you stop telling the story.”

I laughed, I cried, and then laughed again. If you’ve ever loved someone so much that the thought of losing them is crippling, then I think you will love this bookIf you are a fan of literature (it’s filled with wonderful literary allusions) then I think you will love this book. If you enjoy reading a novel with strong, smart, quirky and independent FEMALE characters, (I know – it’s rare!) then you will love this book.

Miriam, your writing is both haunting and inspiring. I bow down to you. Incredible.

 

Until next time,

OMPP