A Complicated Kindness
Reviewed: June 13, 2005
By: Miriam Toews / narrated by Cara Pifko
Publisher: BTC Audio Books
4 hours on 3 CDs, $24.95
Nomi Nickel is one messed up teenager.
Since her mom, Trudie, disappeared from her life, she has been living with
her father in the East Village, on the highway outside of a Manitoba community
dominated by some of the more conservative elements of the Mennonite faith.
It seems to be a faith more honoured in the breech than in the observance,
for the things we learn about in this town are enough to curl your hair.
If Nomi's life is that of a mixed up,
rebellious 16 year old who knows way too much about alcohol, drugs and sex,
she is not the only one in that condition in the town, and the place is not
improved at all by having everyone else deny it.
Tash, Nomi's sister, could not stand
the hypocrisy, and she left town with her boyfriend. Trudie, her mother, also
vanished. In her case it was clear that she was going to be "shunned"
- made a non-person - by the religious elders of the community, and it seemed
as if she decided to leave rather than put her husband in the situation of
having to decide between his faith and his wife.
Whatever her motives, it didn't work.
Ray Nichol has apparently decided to make the rest of his life echo that desertion.
Nomi tells us near the beginning that "the furniture keeps disappearing,
which keeps things interesting."
Not THAT interesting, however: "Ray
and I get up in the morning and move through our various activities until
it's time to go to bed."
It's a cheerless existence in a cheerless
town where most of Nomi's activities outside of school seemed to be aimed
at staving off a dreadful lassitude.
While we flash back earlier times and
get a pretty good idea of the family history, this story is basically about
a year in Nomi's life in "a town not of this world" where the most
likely job prospect is a job at "Happy Family Farms, where local chickens
go to meet their maker."
Apparently the folks in Miriam Toews
(pronounced like "Taves") home town are not very happy with her.
They feel that Nomi's town is their town and that this apostate Mennonite
writer hasn't painted a very flattering portrait of them. If so, the book
is also not a very flattering portrait of Nomi, who comes across as a very
troubled young lady whose perceptions of reality are tinged - no, dyed - with
a melancholy nearly too deep to bear.
Oddly enough, the book is also funny
in a dark way, as was A Boy of Good Breeding, the last book of hers
that I read. It's a fascinating story, but it's also disturbing.
If the voice on this reading sounds
familiar, it's because Cara Pifko plays Alice, the sanest of the lawyers in
the firm whose tales have been told in CBC's wonderfully satiric "This
is Wonderland" over the last two winter seasons. She does a great job
on this adaptation.