I recently read All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. I don’t recommend it. I mean I do, but I don’t. Particularly, if you have a history of suicide in your family.
It also sounds like she’s got quite the bone to pick with the Mennonite community. I get it. I had issues with the Roman Catholic church myself. I actually found some relief in discovering that other people from different faiths have also been wounded by their churches. It wasn’t just the Roman Catholics! Hurrah!
I also discovered that I had a rebellious heart. As most of you probably know, in the Catholic church you can only take communion if you are Catholic (in part due to what the Catholics believe about the host and the wine), and you also have to complete the sacrament of Holy Communion. I did this as a child. (It was actually a pretty great moment for me. I remember wearing a beautiful white dress and leading the procession of other kids taking part in Communion. My grandparents came and I have a picture of myself with them after the ceremony.)
Anyway, years later, after having walked away from the Catholic church, I would sometimes find myself in a Catholic church for various reasons. One such reason was Ash Wednesday. That day, I was determined to take Communion, even though I knew the priests would probably not allow me to take Communion (given I was going to a Protestant church).
I found myself sitting in the church, crying! I did not take part in Communion and felt like I needed to go to my own church that night for their Ash Wednesday service to repent of my hard, stubborn and rebellious heart.
It was a breakthrough moment, where I learned that even if I do not agree with some traditions in the Catholic church, and even if some priests had been big-time jerks to my mom, I still had to respect and honour the traditions of the Catholic church.
I made a shocking discovery: The Catholic church was not the problem. I was the problem!
So, when I read All My Puny Sorrows, I wondered if Ms. Toews was airing out her grievances publicly, and I wondered whether or not she was finding healing by doing this. (I have no idea if she’s Mennonite! It would just seem strange to have two novels, this one and A Complicated Kindness about rebelling against the Mennonite community if you were not Mennonite…)
That said, the main theme of the book is suicide. This topic is something of intense personal meaning to the author.
At the end of the novel there’s a woman giving the eulogy at the sister’s funeral, and her toddler comes up, takes the urn, opens it and begins to put the ashes in his mouth. Toews says, ““And I learned another thing, which is that just because someone is eating the ashes of your protagonist doesn’t mean you stop telling the story.””
The story was gut-wrenching for me, given that my own mother has attempted suicide twice, both during my lifetime.
I finished reading the book and cried. I couldn’t stop crying. A therapist would probably say it was good for me. But, if you have lived through that pain, it doesn’t feel good for you. It’s a pain you can’t even begin to describe – Ineffable.
I suppose I should thank Ms. Toews for having the guts to not “stop telling the story.” Well, that’s all I have in me today. As an old friend used to say, “Thanks for reading!”
Quote taken from the Star: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/2014/04/14/author_miriam_toews_talks_about_the_family_experiences_that_lead_to_all_my_puny_sorrows_her_latest_book.html