A review of

A Complicated Kindness

by Miriam Toews

Central question: How can a Mennonite girl enjoy life fully without getting run out of town?
Format: 246 pp., hardcover; Size: 8.5" x 5.75"; Price: $23; Publisher: Counterpoint; Print run: 30,000; Percentage of book that author says is autobiographical: 10 percent; Author’s hometown: Steinbach, Manitoba; Author’s current residence: Winnipeg, Manitoba; Representative sentence: “Suddenly, in comparison to loving metaphors and communism, it seemed tame and typical and status quo to be drinking, at the pits, to be staying out all night with a boy, and to be storming around the house in a bra and panties swearing along with Marianne Faithfull and saying oh my god to everything anybody ever said to you.”

Those of us who felt oppressed as teenagers can easily recall how any act of rule-bending, whether it was puffing a cigarette or starting an ill-advised romance, could seem an enormous yet thrilling risk of outsized proportions. For Nomi Nickel, the sixteen-year-old heroine of A Complicated Kindness, these same risks are anything but outsized. A teenager and small-town Mennonite, Nomi is barred from makeup, sex, dancing, smoking, rock-and-roll; even fantasizing about a life in Montreal or New York City—places where, presumably, such temptations exist in unavoidable abundance—is to risk being shunned by her family and neighbors. Miriam Toews (pronounced Taves), the award-winning Canadian author of three earlier books, embodies Nomi’s voice with such an authentic and manic charm that it’s hard not to fall in love with her, this young woman who can only wonder what it’s like to be one of the Americans who come to her Manitoba town to gawk at “the world’s most non-progressive community.”

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

—Kevin Sampsell

Kevin Sampsell is the editor of The Insomniac Reader: Stories of the Night (Manic D Press), the author of Beautiful Blemish (Word Riot Press), and a bookstore employee living in Portland, Oregon.

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