Nine's Reviews > A Complicated Kindness

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
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Nov 20, 09

Read in October, 2009

(A slightly edited version of this review appears at The Rumpus.)

I started reading A Complicated Kindness on my last day in Barcelona. I ran away to Barcelona because of a girl. Also I’d been grumpy and mopey for the previous month or so, due to the whole uncertain future thing, so really the whole disappointment with the girl just kind of tipped me over the edge. I figured I could fritter my money away while moping in Edinburgh, or I could fritter it away travelling.

I’d never really bothered to read any blurb about the book because I knew John K Samson liked it and that was enough for me. It turned out that it was nothing like whatever I assumed from the title or the cover.

It’s about Nomi, a sixteen-year-old in a Mennonite community in rural Canada. She lives with her father, who’s one of the nicest fictional fathers I’ve ever encountered. Her mother and sister left three years ago and haven’t been heard from since. Nomi and her father are both kind of struggling along and both doing kind of weird things, which seems like a reasonable reaction to a fucked up situation in a place where God is more important than family. Nomi isn’t a believer any more and she drinks and takes drugs and hangs out with her boyfriend and gets into trouble at school. She has insomnia and frequently wanders the town at night and does unpredictable things.

I always love teen angst. This book really kind of brings it home, because it’s not just ordinary teen angst, you know, my-life-is-so-hard-why-won’t-he-notice-me, it captures the despair and the frustration of not having any control, especially when you’re in a place where American tourists come to gawp at how quaint you all are. It’s no wonder Nomi is so cynical.

Then there’s the religion stuff. When her sister left, Nomi was inconsolable, believing her sister would go to hell. I remember that kind of worry from my own Christian indoctrination. It was really tough to get your head around, that people you loved were going to hell, no matter how nice they were, if they didn’t accept Jesus as their personal saviour.

And I love all the bits where Nomi is just wandering aimlessly and examining the thoughts in her own head. Sometimes she invents games to play to keep herself occupied, like: today I’m going to say goodbye to everyone I see, and pretend I’m leaving town.

At the moment I am really relating to all her restlessness, because I feel like I can’t stay in Edinburgh for more than two days without getting twitchy, and I’m not sure what’s up with that. I try being restless in different locations like the bath or the futon, but that’s not very exciting, and it’s too goddamn cold to wander the streets. I talked to Alice two days ago. She was like: I just can’t be bothered meeting new people these days, you know?

And I was like: yeah, I know. I mean, pretty much every time I walk down the street I check people out, right? But these days I just think, oh, you look cool, but you’re probably actually really pretentious or boring or vacant or obnoxious or immature or whatever. So there isn’t even any point in looking at people any more.

So that’s kind of where I’m at and why I liked this book right now and if you relate to any of that maybe it will work for you too.
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message 1: by Imogen (new)

Imogen Sold. I feel the same as all the things in this review, pretty much. I'd like a banner over the door to my bedroom that says 'teen angst,' if there were a door.


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