The word “Crickets” from the title of today’s blog post refers to the book I just finished reading. The word “Christmas” refers to the book I will shortly begin…again.
To begin with the metaphorical crickets, I’ve just finished reading A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. I’m all for supporting Canadian writers, especially because I realize that if I ever become a writer, I will be a Canadian writer myself. I’ve taken Canadian literature courses in school, I’ve delved into the works of Robertson Davies and Margaret Atwood on several occasions, and I can passionately and confidently state that Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro are my two favourite short story writers of all time. (Sidenote: The genre I have most often worked in during my own literary “career” is the short story, and so I have a deep appreciation for this particular style of concise text.) I felt excited to read Toews’ text because, after reading the description some years ago and stumbling upon the book again recently, I determined that it would have a similar feel to Munro’s novel Lives of Girls and Women, which is one of my favourite novels of all time (I even have a quote from the novel hanging on the wall of my bedroom!).
Obviously I was judging Toews’ novel based on the stereotype that all stories about small Canadian towns are the same. But, considering that I grew up and still live in a small Canadian town just east of Toronto, I feel like I can speak with some authority about small-town life. One of the aspects that I loved most about Lives of Girls and Women was the fact that I believe Munro described small-town life exactly and perfectly – and I assumed that Toews would do the same.
I suppose she did, if I’m being honest…her description of an intimate cast of characters is detailed, she seems to know her setting very well and her narrator Nomi’s voice is unique and very realistic. Nomi’s manner of speaking is distinct, complete with swear words and slang, fluid moments of stream of consciousness narration, and a lack of punctuation (specifically quotation marks) that makes it feel as though she is speaking directly and informally to the reader. And the ending of the novel, the abrupt but shocking conclusion when everything comes together for the reader and the purpose and intention of the text finally becomes apparent, is so well done that it makes the entire reading experience worthwhile.
The trouble is that, while I liked Nomi and appreciated the creativity behind her design, I didn’t feel connected to her or to her struggles. I just didn’t get a warm feeling from the novel…I didn’t feel sucked in or as if I really cared. I didn’t really worry about the characters, I wasn’t in too much of a rush to get back to them and, to be perfectly honest, I just wanted something substantial to happen! It felt like, for most if not all of the novel, nothing was happening at all – I was taken on a journey through a small Canadian town, but nothing of interest occurred there. I was bored more often than I would’ve liked…and I’m disappointed to admit it because I had such high hopes for the novel. I really wanted to love love love it!
So now (on to the Christmas part), I’m left with an important decision: it’s almost Christmas time, the weather is starting to get colder and drearier, and I really want to read a book that’s going to give me that warm feeling. Do I pick a book off my shelf and risk entering a world and meeting a set of characters that I won’t feel attached to? OR do I select a book that I’ve already read and know I love?
Well, the decision is an easy one for me: it’s time to re-read a favourite, a classic…it’s time to go back to my literary home! It’s been over a year since I visited my friends at Thornfield Hall (and so much has changed for me in that year as you know!), so it’s obviously time to curl up in the pages of Jane Eyre again! (Warning: There will probably be about a million blog posts written throughout my reading experience…stay tuned!)
I can’t wait to see my favourite governess (and a certain handsome, dashing man) again and tell you all about it,
Girl with a Green Heart