A Complicated Kindness
I read this one on the recommendation of Leanne, Kennedy Library’s former architecture librarian. Leanne is Canadian, and told me that this is one of her favorite (oops — favourite) Canadian novels. It’s a coming of age story with an unusual setting: a small Mennonite community in Manitoba. The main character is Nomi, a teenager living with her dad. Nomi’s mother and sister have both left home, leaving Nomi and her dad bereft and in a holding pattern, waiting for their return or for some resolution of their absence, which never really comes.
Nomi’s voice is unique; she struggles to reconcile the paralyzing strictness of the church and her dreams of someday living a bohemian life in New York. Not surprisingly, this proves impossible to do. Here’s a sampling of her sardonic description of her life with her dad:
Now my dad, you know what he says in the middle of those long evenings sitting in our house on the highway? He says: Say, Nomi, how about spinning a platter. Yeah, he uses those exact butt-clenching words. Which means he wants to listen to Anne Murray singing “Snowbird,” again. Or my old Terry Jacks forty-five of “Seasons in the Sun.” I used to play that song over and over in the dark when I was nine, the year I really became aware of my existence. What a riot. We have a ball. Recently, Ray’s been using the word stomach as a verb a lot. And also the word rally. We rally and we stomach. Ray denied it when I pointed it out to him. He says we’re having a good time and getting by. Why shouldn’t he amend? He tells me that life is filled with promise but I think he means the promise of an ending because so far I haven’t been able to put my finger on any other. If we could get out of this town things might be better but we can’t because we’re waiting for Trudie and Tash to come back. It’s been three years so far.
Between her clingy boyfriend Travis, who she doesn’t appreciate fully till he’s gone, and her shell-shocked dad, Nomi is lost. It’s not until she considers following the family pattern that there seems to be any hope for her. Her biographical entry in Wikipedia says that she grew up in a Mennonite community in Manitoba, which makes me wonder how much of this story is her own, and which character she is most like.
author photo: Carol Loewen