Review: A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

356047.jpgTitle: A Complicated Kindness

Author: Miriam Toews

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date: 2004

ISBN: 9780676978568

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sixteen-year-old Nomi Nickel longs to hang out with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull in New York City’s East Village. Instead she’s trapped in East Village, Manitoba, a small town whose population is Mennonite: “the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you’re a teenager.” East Village is a town with no train and no bar whose job prospects consist of slaughtering chickens at the Happy Family Farms abattoir or churning butter for tourists at the pioneer village. Ministered with an iron fist by Nomi’s uncle Hans, a.k.a. The Mouth of Darkness, East Village is a town that’s tall on rules and short on fun: no dancing, drinking, rock ’n’ roll, recreational sex, swimming, make-up, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities or staying up past nine o’clock.
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It’s hard to articulate how I feel about this book, so I’m struggling a bit to write this review. I can’t say I loved or hated this book. Reading it years after the fact, I feel like there was so much hype surrounding this book that when I finally got to reading it, there’s no way it could have ever lived up to my expectations. For that reason, I did not love A Complicated Kindness in the same way that I did The Flying Troutmans.

Nomi is a teen in a mennonite town ruled by it’s minister, Nomi’s uncle. There is no room for freedom and those who oppose the religion are banished. This leaves Nomi and her father without her mother and sister. They’re living an empty existence in this town. Nomi in particular is trying to reconcile the religious beliefs she’s been brought up with and the rebellious ways of her kin. Nomi is quirky and is seeking meaning her her life. She doesn’t have aspirations beyond the pre-determined life of working in the town factory, but she can’t help but wonder what it is her mother and sister saw outside of their community. Nomi is really the best part of this book. She is our eyes into this small community, showing us what it’s like and how she lives. Her perceptions are influenced by her youthful opinions and naiveté.

What I didn’t like about this book is that I found that nothing really happens. It wasn’t exciting or as engaging as it could have been. We’re really just privy to Nomi’s day-to-day life, but the conflicts aren’t fully developed and really could have been much more dramatic. I felt like there could have been stronger feelings or greater conflict between Nomi’s family and without that, I was a bit disappointed. It was an enjoyable read, but I wish I’d read this book back when there was so much buzz about it, and perhaps I could have been a part of the group of readers who were generating all that hype. Alas, reading it so many years later, I was let down a bit. Still, Toews is an excellent writer who creates interesting and well-developed characters. I will continue to make my way through her collection of writing!

 

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Review: The Flying Troumans by Miriam Toews

2940207Title: The Flying Troutman

Author: Miriam Toews

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Publication Date:

ISBN: 9780307397492

Synopsis from Goodreads:
Hattie hears her sister Min has been checked into a psychiatric hospital, and finds herself flying back to Winnipeg to take care of Thebes and Logan, her niece and nephew. Not knowing what else to do, she loads the kids, a cooler, and a pile of CDs into their van and they set out on a road trip in search of the children’s long-lost father, Cherkis. Eleven-year-old Thebes spends her time making huge novelty cheques with arts and crafts supplies in the back, and won’t wash, no matter how wild and matted her purple hair gets; she forgot to pack any clothes. Four years older, Logan carves phrases like “Fear Yourself” into the dashboard, and repeatedly disappears in the middle of the night to play basketball; he’s in love, he says, with New York Times columnist Deborah Solomon. But though it might seem like an escape from crisis into chaos, this journey is also desperately necessary, a chance for an accidental family to accept, understand or at least find their way through overwhelming times.


This book was my introduction to Miriam Toews (yes I know, I’m so behind the times!) and I LOVED IT! This is a story of family, mental illness, growing up, healing, and so much more. This novel was absolutely raw in it’s emotion, confronting difficult issues head on and doing so with a touch of dark humour. The book is filled with this family’s desperation as the characters confront the reality that their lives may never be the same again, but they find strength and support in each other. They come together in a way that even they did not think could or would ever happen.

I can’t say I had a favourite character because I liked them all quite a lot. Thebes is quirky and trying to assert her independence in a world that doesn’t always accept individuality as a good thing. Logan is moody and brooding, but his heart is soft and strong. He’s learning that it’s ok to be emotionally and show his true feelings, even as a young man. Hattie is a scattered mess all around, trying to get a grip on her own life. Her heart is big and her devotion to her family is even greater, even if she struggles to know if what she’s doing is right and ok and even though she mourns the life she’s lost.

I couldn’t get enough of this book. I zipped through it in a few nights. I couldn’t get enough. I can’t wait to read even more of Toews books.

Review: Nostalgia by M. G. Vassanji

28363849*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Nostalgia

Author: M.G. Vassanji

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: September 20, 2016

ISBN: 9780385667166

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In the indeterminate future in an unnamed western city, physical impediments to immortality have been overcome. As society approaches the prospect of eternal life, a new problem must be confronted: with the threat of the brain’s storage capacity being overwhelmed, people want to move forward into the future free from redundant, unwanted and interfering memories. Rejuvenated bodies require rejuvenated identities–all traces of a person’s past are erased and new, complete fictions are implanted in their stead. On occasion, though, cracks emerge, and reminders of discarded lives seep through. Those afflicted suffer from Leaked Memory Syndrome, or Nostalgia, whereby thoughts from a previous existence burrow in the conscious mind threatening to pull sufferers into an internal abyss. Doctor Frank Sina specializes in sealing these memory leaks. But one day, Presley Smith arrives in Frank’s office. Persistent thoughts are torturing Presley, recurring images of another time and place. As he tries to save Presley from the onslaught of memory, Frank finds clues that suggest Presley’s past may be located in war-torn, nuclear-ravaged Maskinia, a territory located in the southern hemisphere, isolated from the north by fiercely guarded borders and policy barriers. Who was Presley before the Department remade him, what secrets are buried in the memories that are encroaching upon him?


This was my first foray into the books of M.G. Vassanji, and I’m definitely ready to read more. Nostalgia introduces the reader to a future society in a mysterious sci-fi world in a concise but moving story. In this world, identity is something that no longer belongs to the individual and death is no longer an imminent threat. Humanity has lost not only personhood, but also any sense of mortality as well. People are divided by religion, by their desire to live forever or die naturally, and even by their own sense of consciousness and reality. Vassanji has weaved together a complicated story that could have easily been expanded to double the length, or even into a series. I think my main criticism would be the length of this story. So many interesting ideas and complicated topics are introduced, and there was not enough space for the author to really delve into the nitty-gritty details and to fully flesh out these ideas. I’d love to see a follow up novel to this series where more of these themes are explored.

Frank, the protagonist, is struggling to understand the world around him. He’s questioning his own beliefs and the world that he knows. His patient, Presley Smith, is having strange dreams that spark deep confusion and thought in Frank. As Frank seeks answers, he begins to learn that perhaps everything he’s known is not as it seems. Perhaps there are other answers out there.

The book has an overall sinister feel, and does not have a warm and fuzzy happy ending. It’s not a feel good book, but instead is a story to provoke thought and to cause the reader to question the transformation of technology in our own world. Vassanji posits a potential future reality for us that could be something our world one day sees.

I thought this book was very interesting and well-written considering it’s length. It made me happy to see it on 2017’s Canada Reads list and although it was not the winner, it’s a book that definitely deserved to be a contender. Although I was unsatisfied with the ending, I found the characters to be unique and compelling. Vassanji’s way of writing is slow and thoughtful, thorough and pensive. I didn’t feel rushed or hurried. I wanted to savour each page. The reader is given tidbits of information which helps build the mystery and intrigue.

I hope you’ll give this one a try, because it’s definitely worth it, especially for sci-fi fans!

Worn Pages is back up and running!

Hi all!

I’ve finally had some time to get back to writing and I thank you all SO MUCH for your patience. The wedding is still a few weeks away, but now that I’m nearly done preparing the decorations, I’ve been able to go back and review a few books. I’m exciting to share the upcoming reviews with you. I’ve been reading some really great books. 2017 is shaping up to be a great year for fiction. I hope you’ll all enjoy what I have to say, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts too! Stay tuned for my first review of 2017, coming to you next week.

Happy reading!
-J

Review: Pauls by Jess Taylor

Pauls-Jess-Taylor-cover-510-510x777

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Title: Pauls

Author: Jess Taylor

Publisher: BookThug

Publication Date: October 2015

ISBN: 9781771661683

Synopsis:
Pauls, the debut short-story collection by the exciting young writer Jess Taylor, is about people: the things that remain unseen to them; how they cope with their unforgettable pasts; the different roles they take in each other’s lives; how they hurt each other; how they try to heal each other; the things they want to learn; and the things they’ll never discover. At the same time, Pauls is a portrayal of the world as these people see it—they all exist in a universe that is strange and indifferent to those within it. Coincidences, relationships, conversations, and friendships all pose more questions than answers.

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Pauls is a short story collection that’ll take your breathe away. These stories are open, raw, and truthful. They do not shirk away from tough topics and seek to portray reality as it is: harsh, tough, and unforgiving. The Pauls in this short book do not have easy lives. They struggle with abuse, depression, pain. But they also find love, friendship, and healing. This collection moved me and more than once, it took my breath away. Taylor’s writing style is coaxing. She writes with the power of experience. She made me feel as her characters feel. I understand their sadness and their hurt, their need to love and protect, their desire to find contentment. Taylor’s writing made me feel like I knew these experiences. In a few short pages, I felt like I knew the characters intimately. Pauls is a window into the lives of strangers, that could so very easily be our own. Few stories have happy endings, but all stories share their lives as they really are. They don’t try to hide or alter. It’s an excellent collection.

Funky Cover Friday

Kwe: Standing With Our Sisters (edited by my favourite, Joseph Boyden) brings together the voices of many, rising up against injustice against Native Women in Canada. It collects essays, fiction, and poetry into a collection that I’m just bursting with anticipation to read. It’s been hanging out on my TBR for a few months now only because it was first released as an ebook and I want nothing more than for a paperback to be released.

This cover for me is just visually stunning. It’s incredibly moving and it says so much, especially in conjunction with the topics discussed within the pages. Having studying Native Canadian literature, attended pow wows throughout my childhood, and having a significant interest in Native Canadian literature in general, this cover really speaks to me. It captures the essence of everything that I’ve read or experienced. I think it’s absolutely beautiful.

Have you read Kwe? What did you think? How do you think the cover represents the content within?

 

 

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Kwe | ed. Joseph Boyden | 9780143194910 | Penguin Random House Canada | Dec. 2014

Review: Revenge of the Grand Narrative

22228437Title: Revenge of the Grand Narrative

Author: Richard Rosenbaum

Publisher: Quattro Books

Publication Date: 2014

ISBN: 9781927443712

Revenge of the Grand Narrative

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The oldest man in the world, an activist with a suspiciously persuasive singing voice, and the author of the most anticipated debut novel ever…are three different people. Together they set out to investigate a mysteriously sychronistic earthquake that seems to have leapt from the world of fiction.

Revenge of the Grand Narrative is a novel that brought a smile to my face in a way that no book has done since the metafiction class that I took in university. The extent to which this novel is aware of itself as a fiction is amusing and absurd to say the least. This book has a whole section in it’s second half that walks the reader through parts of the stories development and the author’s thoughts and notes on the writing. The author/speaker identifies the story as a work of fiction, commenting on the style, the thought behind it, even to the point of conversing with one of the story’s characters directly.

The more “traditional” narrative is an absurd story of a city struck suddenly and unusually by earthquakes, accompanied by the landing of a wooden, naturally grown, robot-esque, fire-spurting being. It’s left to our three main characters–a famous author, a Kantian deontologist, and an idealogical utilitarian– all of whom are opinionated and act exactly how you’d expect, to save the day. We don’t really get any sort of conclusion. Each character finishes the story trapped inside the Generic House of Worship, a structure that isn’t really quite sure what it is. The writer, that is the speaker, returns to these scenes to walk us through his thoughts behind each character and each situation.

Rosenbaum has fun with his writing here. His statements are often intentionally obvious or ridiculously absurd, and it’s hilarious. He kept bringing a smirk to my face. The ending especially gave me a good chuckle. It’s a really unique story, and a light hearted read.