What The Word On The Street is Reading: All My Puny Sorrows

Catherine Barandiaran, The Word On The Street’s Event Coordinator, recently read Miriam Toews’ much-anticipated new novel, All My Puny Sorrows. The book was published in April by Knopf Canada.

About the book: 

All My Puny Sorrows coverYou won’t forget Elf and Yoli, two smart and loving sisters. Elfrieda, a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married: she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced, broke, sleeping with the wrong men as she tries to find true love: she desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. Yoli is a beguiling mess, wickedly funny even as she stumbles through life struggling to keep her teenage kids and mother happy, her exes from hating her, her sister from killing herself and her own heart from breaking.

 All My Puny Sorrows, at once tender and unquiet, offers a profound reflection on the limits of love, and the sometimes unimaginable challenges we experience when childhood becomes a new country of adult commitments and responsibilities. In her beautifully rendered new novel, Miriam Toews gives us a startling demonstration of how to carry on with hope and love and the business of living even when grief loads the heart.

Q&A with Catherine:

What drew you to this book?

I became a big fan of Miriam Toews’ writing after reading A Complicated Kindness. Consequently I grabbed All My Puny Sorrows as soon as I saw it in stores. The subject matter is heartwrenching and beautiful, tender—devastating. It tells the story of two sisters, one struggling to die and the other desperately keeping her alive. The fact that it is semi-autobiographical makes it all the more moving.

Did you enjoy reading it?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I have found that I read for style. Not sentence structure, folks. I mean when you have to look up from the page and take it all in because the writing is just that masterful. Early on the narrator asks, “Hey, how do we set words to life’s tragic score”. Toews does this effortlessly. The blunt simplicity of her writing is forceful. It is buoyant and yet makes you heavy with thought.

There’s also something to be said about the characters. The mark of a good character, for me, is complexity. I enjoy when an author makes me simultaneously love and hate their protagonist. That’s when I know I am invested in a book. If I don’t care about the characters, it’s likely I won’t finish the novel. Elfrieda, the sister who pines for death, frustrates me but I find myself wanting to be her friend, her confidant, her sister. Then you grieve for Yolandi for the exhausting sadness that also envelops her—the helplessness.

Would you recommend it?

I would certainly recommend this book. My advice is to read it slowly.



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