Eager reader of history, mystery, classics, biographies, steampunk, lit fic, science, scifi, and etc. My reviews are mostly positive--I rarely finish or write about books I don't enjoy. My TBR is too high for that.
I always fall hard for the novels Miriam Toews writes and the characters she creates. A best selling author in Canada, most of her books involve individualistically inclined or exiled Mennonites balancing their traditional upbringing with the modern world in distinctive stories of personal struggle and family connection. The details about Mennonite culture and its fringes give the stories added interest and a strong sense of place, but it’s the characters that really set her novels apart.
In All My Puny Sorrows one sister has it all. Elfrieda Von Riese has always been eccentric, passionate, talented and intense--a dances to her own drummer Mennonite--and now as an adult she’s a wealthy, beloved, beautiful, world acclaimed pianist in a wonderfully loving marriage, but in spite of all that goodness Elf is determined to kill herself, somehow never having developed a tolerance for living in the world. Her sister Yolandi, in contrast, is a twice divorced now single mother, drifting in and out of relationships and perennially broke, who desperately wants to keep Elf alive. “She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other.”
It’s not a plotline that would normally attract me, and the story is more character than plot anyway, but Toews gives her characters such captivating, heart-piercing voices that I sank deep and only reluctantly put down this thoughtfully nuanced, non-condescending, family celebrating book. The title comes from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.