All My Puny Sorrows
By Miriam Toews
This novel centers around two sisters, Elf and Yoli, who come at life very differently. Elf is a famous concert pianist who suffers from depression and desperately wants to die. In contrast, Yoli lives a full, messy life and struggles to understand the sister she loves so dearly. Yoli is funny, self deprecating, and a great literary character. Miriam Toews does an amazing job of writing about a difficult subject with both humanity and humor. It is dark material and yet the book is never dark.
What did it make me think about?
It made me think about mental illness (depression in particular) and the toll it takes on a family. It also examines the role of humor and acceptance during difficult times.
Should I read it?
Warning- it did take 40 pages or so before I knew this book was a keeper. Don’t give up! I LOVED this book. Great characters and not much plot but I highly recommend it. The subject matter sounds so depressing but the novel has so much humor that you never feel overwhelmed.
“I had been standing next to Elf’s stretcher in the Emergency room. Her broken backpack hung on the IV unit next to her. I was sliding my hands back and forth on the steel railing that held her in and I was crying. Elf took my hand, weakly, like an old dying person, and looked deeply in my eyes.
Yoli, she said, I hate you.
I bent to kiss her and whispered that I knew that, I was aware of it. I hate you too. I said.
It was the first time that we had sort of articulated our major problem. She wanted to die and I wanted her to live and we were enemies who loved each other. We held each other tenderly, awkwardly, because she was in a bed attached to things.”