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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

All My Puny Sorrows: A Novel

One book on everyone's list this winter has been All My Puny Sorrows, a novel by Miriam Toews. I picked it up over the winter break.

Yoli and Elfrieda are raised in a small Mennonite town in Canada where they are discouraged from education and frivolous pursuits by their strictly religious community. Each rebels in her own way: Yoli by floundering as an adult and Elfrieda by becoming a world renowned musician. They seem to be actively functioning adults except for Elf's repeated suicide attempts. This last one has thrown the family for a loop, and she is in a great deal of mental pain. When does someone have the right to take their own life? What is the family's responsibility for that person? Is Yoli responsible for keeping her sister alive, or does she owe it to her sister to allow her to ease the pain? There are no right answers.

Full disclaimer: this book is not exactly an uplifter. Suicide is a difficult topic to tackle in a sensitive and honest way, and I feel that Toews did a good job with this one. I know that it's personal story for her, and that is very clear in the storytelling. The hurt when she is rejected by her sister, and the state of panic that she feels when she finds out her sister has attempted suicide for the umpteenth time feels completely legitimate. The cross between, "Oh no not again," and, "Why can't this just be over," is exhausting and something that I feel is hard to capture in a book, especially a novel. Toews does a brilliant job of this.

So yes, while it's not the easiest to read in the world, it is a really wonderful read. It's something you may not want to pick up on the subway, but it is something that you may want to invest in on a day off and when you're in the mood for a deep and beautiful novel. You give to this novel and in turn you take away so much, making it worth the investment and the open-mindedness you will go into it with.

For purchase below.

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