All My Puny SorrowsAll My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

if it’s possible for a book to be perfect, this is one.

i can’t think of anything to say that doesn’t sound cliche–it’s beautiful and unsentimental, funny as hell and full of pain deeper than the Mariana Trench. and sharp in all the above ways. both claws and heart, this book.

it’s also a great exploration of family love amongst the womenfolk, in particular the two sisters who are the main characters. sisterhood hasn’t really gotten nearly the ink it deserves in the general run of litrachaa, and Toews does a thorough, gorgeous job of illuminating that wondrous relationship.

it’s also a lot about suicide. this is where i think the book really stands way out from the herd–it doesn’t glorify it, doesn’t condemn it. the book does a beautiful compassionate job of trying to understand the need. most people i know seem to fall into two camps, when considering suicide: one, suicide is a horrible cowardly selfish act; or two, suicide is sad but life is hard and when you gotta go, you gotta go, just don’t screw up the train schedules during rush hour.

my friends in camp one are largely americans; camp two are mainly japanese.

i wonder a lot about americans. sometimes we are such a fucked-up lot. we would rather condemn a person to suffer, and suffer, and suffer, just so that we don’t have to grieve. or is it that we are so societally invested in the notion of happyhappyhappy and everything will be grand just so long as we can buy a bigger car? i dunno, that’s probably oversimplifying. but we are as a rule pretty bent about avoiding the dark side. (that’s why we have so many guns. who was it told me recently that the shadow side will have its way? i can’t remember, but it’s true.)

my own attitude lines up way better with the japanese, but that’s possibly only because there have been so many times i was suffering badly enough to want to die. for reals, not just for garnering sympathy. my friends are by and large a pretty unsympathetic lot anyway, wouldn’t have done me any good to go cry to them. but anyway, we who have dwelt in that particular shadow make up a peculiar but immensely grateful audience for this book. finally, somebody dun said it like it is, without the judgement. thank you from the bottom of my heart for that, Ms. Toews.

so ya! suicide. what a subject. if you’re a run-of-the-mill american, don’t bother reading this book, you just flat won’t get it–unless you’re willing to have your notions ruffled. if you’re japanese, you probably don’t need to. for the rest of us… wow. what an experience.