Monday, May 26, 2014

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

I suppose it's not surprising that a book about depression and suicide is a depressing read.  But, as usual, Toews writes well so I wanted to read to the end despite the topic.

The book is written from the perspective of Yoli, the younger sister of an unconventional Mennonite family from small town Manitoba.  As an adult, Yoli is trying desperately to keep her older sister, Elf, from killing herself after several unsuccessful suicide attempts.  Superficially, Elf appears to be the better adjusted - she is a world renowned pianist, involved in a stable relationship with a supportive man.  Yoli has been divorced twice and has one child from each of the men.  She is also a semi-successful writer of teen rodeo novels who is struggling to finish her first "serious" book.

The girls both struggled in the confines of their restrictive Mennonite community and were often condemned by the town elders.  Their father also suffered and eventually took his own life.  My favourite character was the girls' mother.  She is strong and adaptable despite losing her husband and many siblings and having to face her daughter's mental illness.

This is in the end a story of struggling through life, and mental illness, and trying to figure out how to move on after tragedy.  It's also a study in the influence of family relationships and history on one's own life.  It's equal parts uplifting and depressing, but in all I really enjoyed it.

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