A Complicated Confession


Day 4?  I’m not sure anymore.  After a long apres-lunch walk by the lake, I was anxious to hear the afternoon speakers – David Bezmozgis, Miriam Toews, and a senior editor from Knopf Random House.

Bezmozgis, writer of both short stories and novel, talked about the different processes he uses to write in both worlds.  It was interesting to hear now that he’s written a novel he has a hard time writing short stories. One would think that after running the marathon, a sprint would be a piece of cake.  Not so for him.  I wonder if this is true for others?

Miriam Toews…Funny thing about Ms Toews.  Only yesterday, I spoke rather strongly about her book, A Complicated Kindness to one of my classmates. Not in a particularly good way.

Note: I am a Banshee of very little brain sometimes and in my defense, I have evolved as a reader since I was given that particular book.  Before, I was a reader of habit.  In literary terms, I was stuck in a rut for…hmmm…let’s see…decades.  I read historical fiction, chick lit, the occasional mystery…are you snoring yet?  Yeah, it was bad. I read books that were the literary equivalent of mac and cheese – pure comfort food.

When I began to get serious about writing, I joined a book club. I didn’t like the people in my club or the books they read so that didn’t last. I was there for the wine, the nibblies, and the evening away from my kids.

However, it was there that I was exposed to a little book called Blindness, which ironically, was a real eye-opener for me.  It was horrible, violent, disturbing, and somehow irresistible.  Having gotten through that book, I of course said yes when a young woman in my office recommended A Complicated Kindness.

Maybe it was too soon.  Maybe I hadn’t dug myself far enough out of my literary rut to appreciate the story,its dark humour and its offbeat voice.  As I read it, gritting my teeth, I wondered:  am I just too old to get this story, this protagonist?  I finished it, tossed it on the floor beside my bed, and thought grim, unflattering things about the whole matter.

There are painful issues brought up and confronted in this novel – a mother who disappears, a father who cannot cope and becomes intractably sad, a teenage girl left to basically fend for herself.  My former stuck-in-a-rut self loathed reading about sad things, complicated things (especially if they dealt with children).  It wasn’t the book, it was me.

Today the Writer’s Workshop was lucky enough to have Miriam Toews give a talk on “Mining the Family in Literature.” After listening to her speech, I found the woman I had not recommended the book to and said, “Get thee to a bookstore and buy that book.  Now.”  In the 45 minutes that the author spoke about her background, the importance of an authentic voice, her family, the Mennonite community she was raised in, I got it.  I got the whole book in a flash of delayed insight.  Damn, I’m slow.

Not everyone has the opportunity hear an author talk about their work in person; however, if you do, leap at the chance (don’t leap on authors – they are a skittish species.  Dust will fly and your book will remain unsigned).  Ms. Toews was refreshing (she did a mock interview with herself instead of giving a boring speech), funny, and all-round lovely.  Hearing her speak about her work changed my view of it or, at least made me willing to give it another chance.

The senior editor at Knopf Random House had many insightful things to say, not the least of which was:  great writing breaks rules.  Light bulbs could be heard popping on in brains all around me.



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