Title: A Complicated Kindness
Author: Marion Toews
Publisher: Knopf Canada
Where to start. Well, I hate coming of age stories. I’ve read two that I’ve liked: Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations and Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex. There remain only two. Problem is I don’t know to what degree I dislike Winnipeg author Marion Toews third book, A Complicated Kindness.
The narrator, 16 year old Nomi Nickle, tells us her version of her life as a Mennonite girl growing up in rural Manitoba with her family through flashbacks and the present tense; a natural structure. From the outset we learn that sister Tash has left followed by mother Trudie. Her depressed father Ray and Nomi reside together in the family home. The bulk of the book attempts to explain how this situation came to be.
Technically, this is a fine book; it meets all the requirements of how a book ought to be written. A solid resume: Marion, you get the job.
But does it grab me? Was I moved? Was I compelled to crawl into the character’s world when I crawled into bed? No. Even the dark humour that reviewers raved about failed to elicit a chuckle; I laughed once at a reference to Air Supply. Nevertheless, I slogged through to give Canada’s critical and award-wining darling a fair read.
Then rabbits starting appearing out of hats. First it was French horns, then affairs, then blackmailing; it just got ugly and the shunning began. A tidy but complicated ending to a tidy and depressing book.
I really need to read something funny now.