All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

I went to a booksale and I got into trouble. A whole bookbag of trouble. About $40 worth of trouble. But look at all the lovely books I added to my shelf!

I have a copy of this in storage, so this is part of the project of slowly replacing everything I have in storage – reproducing my bookish archive on this side of the country so I don’t have to haul it all the way from the other side of the country. (Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.)

Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness is one of my very favourite Canadian novels, and I’ve enjoyed her other books just fine, but nothing came close to touching the perfection of A Complicated Kindness until All My Puny Sorrows – which comes up as a tough and heartbreaking second-favourite in the Toews canon.

The novel itself is about two sisters, one of whom wants to die. My Goodreads review from 2015 is just this quote:

“I’m sitting on my couch, the one my mother tried to give away to the neighbours, and my tears are beginning to sting my eyes. A low point is when you can’t even depend on your tears not to hurt you. I’ve been next door, at the other neighbour’s. Her name is Amy. She’s a new mom, I see her almost every day, taking her baby for a walk. A month ago she found a fallen starling on the sidewalk and took it home to nurse it back to health. She built a little house for it in her back bedroom, with a branch and a Frisbee full of water, and put live earthworms in a bowl of dirt and she fed him baby food and apple sauce on the end of a tiny Popsicle stick and she played starling songs to him so he could learn how to sing in his language. After about three weeks of taking care of him she decided that the bird could be on his own now and should leave the nest she’d made for him and she opened the door of her back bedroom and the starling hopped onto her shoulder and then the two of them walked along the upstairs hallway, down the stairs, along the downstairs hallway towards the open back door and then suddenly the bird saw his chance, the rectangle of light from the open door, and he flew off. Amy passed her iPhone to me and said you want to see the bird flying away? My husband filmed it. The bird was a small dark blur flying through the air and out into the light and up, gone. He moved so fast. As I watched this short video something inside of me smashed, it was so startling and irreversible that starling’s departure, and I was crying but trying not to, but it felt like I’d been tear-gassed.”

And I think that sums it up pretty well.


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