All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
You won’t forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking.
But Elf’s latest suicide attempt is a shock: she is three weeks away from the opening of her highly anticipated international tour. Her long-time agent has been calling and neither Yoli nor Elf’s loving husband knows what to tell him. Can she be nursed back to “health” in time? Does it matter? As the situation becomes ever more complicated, Yoli faces the most terrifying decision of her life.
All My Puny Sorrows, at once tender and unquiet, offers a profound reflection on the limits of love, and the sometimes unimaginable challenges we experience when childhood becomes a new country of adult commitments and responsibilities. In her beautifully rendered new novel, Miriam Toews gives us a startling demonstration of how to carry on with hope and love and the business of living even when grief loads the heart.
Miriam Toews is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors. She is a reminder to me of just how good Canadian literature can be. It has inspired me to become more serious about supporting Canadian authors- so I will be reading and talking about them a lot more on this blog!
All My Puny Sorrows was a finalist for The Giller Prize in 2014, and I am personally of the opinion that it should have won. What Toews can do with her characters is nothing short of genius. This is a book with very little plot, but the characters themselves propel the story along. You feel as though these characters are your family friends or your neighbours, and I quickly became invested in them.
This book has a trigger warning for suicide. The story is centered around two sisters, one who wants to die, and the other who desperately wants her to live. There are a lot of moral and ethical questions that are raised, and one of the sisters truly wrestles with these questions throughout the book. The book also explores what it is like growing up in a Mennonite community- which is something Toews has personally experienced. The book almost reads as a memoir, and Toews has admitted that the story is largely autobiographical. Knowing that makes it that much more gut-wrenching.
All My Puny Sorrows is a hard book, but it is also real and it is honest.