Plot: Elfrieda is a world-reknowed pianist, beautiful, wealthy and happily married. And she wants to die. Her younger sister Yolandi is divorced, broke and struggling both in her writing career and in her love life. But above all else she wants her sister to live. This struggle takes them back through their Mennonite childhood and all the troubles since.
This was our most recent book club book. It is one that I would have never picked up on my own but one that I enjoyed once I got into it. It was quiet and slow paced but layer by layer revealed the complicated dynamics of a troubled family. Brilliant, rebellious Elf who cannot bear to live. Their quiet, pious father who has his own troubles. And Yoli, who feels inadequate next to a sister she idolizes.
I was introduced to Towes as an author who is unexpectedly funny in the midst of tragic narratives (I have yet to read her other books but they come highly recommended by readers I trust). This novel didn’t quite fit this description. The characters were quirky, in particular Yoli’s best friend and her mother. But their occasional odd behaviour wasn’t as much laugh out loud funny as intriguing. It is a fascinating character study, a glimpse at a Mennonite community and a touching examination at suicide and loss (and their affect on family) but it is not a book that I would recommend for black humour.
If I have one major complaint, it is that the second half of the book should not be read while waiting by your mother-in-law’s sick bed. It doesn’t make you feel hopeful.
All My Puny Sorrows has recently been shortlisted for the Giller prize. I wish Miriam Towes luck!