The timing of Miriam Toews book release All My Puny Sorrows in paperback coincides with the Supreme Court’s ruling this month that Canadians have right to doctor-assisted suicide. This unanimous ruling by establishing that the “sanctity of life” also includes the “passage of life”, extends constitutional rights into a new realm.
But while doctor-assisted suicide is not the focus of the book, suicide is. Drawing parallels from the sorrow in her own life – the author’s own father and sister were both a victim of this – Miriam Toews writes a complicated situation with an acute representation and clarity.
Surprisingly though, the focus of All My Puny Sorrows isn’t really about morbidity, as much as the relationship between two siblings, Elfrieda and Yolanda. And because of that, there are moments of laughter mingled beautifully with ones that are heart-wrenching.
Elfrieda (Elf) is a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily-married, yet she wants to die. Yoli is a beguiling mess – divorced, broke, and constantly falling for the wrong guy.
Elf’s latest suicide attempt seems to come as a shock. Only three weeks away from the start of an international tour, Yoli contemplates if she can be nursed back to health in time. As the situation becomes increasingly dire, Yoli is forced to confront the most terrifying decision of her life.
Shortlisted for the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize and winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, Miriam Toews sixth novel, All My Puny Sorrows teaches us to embrace life, rather than run a million miles from it. In that manner it is about hope and accepting the hand you are dealt. The novel expertly marries grief and laughter, while tackling mental illness, depression and assisted suicide.
A sensitive tale, of issues that normally would break your heart, told with such humanity and grace.