Book Review of Miriam Toews’ ‘A Complicated Kindness’

I read Miram Toews’ ‘A Complicated Kindness’ after reading ‘Women Talking’. I was looking for something more accessible and frankly, something a little more fun to read. ‘A Complicated Kindness’ filled the bill well.
I see many comparisons of the principal character, Nomi Nickel, to Holden Caulfield in ‘Catcher in the Rye’, but I empathized more with Nomi. Same teenage angst, but a more caring protagonist.
The voice is smart-alecky, world-weary at times, a little too precociously cliche, but the honest fear and confusion of this young woman is compelling. I found myself almost immersed into her world, but bumped out by the weird behaviour of so many of the characters. It rattled my suspension of disbelief a few too many times. And the ending was a bit of a Cinderella story, saved by the prince. In this way, the ending echoed ‘All My Puny Sorrows’.
Spoiler: The last five or ten pages through a bit of a curve ball. I like surprises, but the reader should be able to think “Yes! That is what I should have seen coming.” I didn’t see any clues to the weird wrap with Trudie. And I would have liked to have seen a more active agency taken by Ms Nickel, but that is a minor quibble.
But it is really well written. Dense prose that covers a lot of ground, but feels light to read. There is a lot going on here and it is worthwhile for a reader to take some breaks and digest it all. A really good novel.

Review of Strunk and White’s ‘The Elements of Style’

I saw this on a Social media post recently: “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can give them is to present them with copies of ‘The Elements of Style’. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re still happy.” Dorothy Parker.
This provided the impetus to re-read this ‘little’ book. My copy of the 3rd edition is 88 pages, so we can read it in a couple of hours. It is time well spent for any writer.
Short prescriptive rules delivered by the grammar ‘Drill Sargent’ that is William Strunk Jr have passed the test of time. First published in 1918, the book still helps every student write clear, concise prose. Clear writing goes hand-in-glove with clear thinking and this book helps deliver both.
I had bookmarked favorite rules, like # 15, ‘Put statements in Positive Form’, or the rule on not using not. Rule # 14, ‘Use Active Voice’, a lesson every writer should learn. And my most quoted rule when critiquing work, #16, ‘Use definite, specific, concrete language’. ‘The surest way to arouse and hold attention of the reader is by being specific, definite and concrete’. I have always believed the very best fiction is delivered by knowing what specific details to include.
Strunk shows he cares about the reader, how the message of prose is received and that a writer must always think of that reader when delivering a sentence, paragraph or longer work. I would take it further to say the writer must always empathize with a reader and understand how their prose is received and experienced.
This is a great little book that every writer should read. I am constantly amazed at how many budding writers share work full of spelling and grammatical errors. Reading is meant to be an immersing experience, where the reader lives the thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams of the fictional characters. In the words of John Gardner readers ‘Sink into the dream of the story’. But it jars them out of that dream by spelling and grammar errors. Done too often, they will put down the story and not return.
I highly recommend this book and that writers learn and follow these rules.

Review of Dallaire’s ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’

I tried to read Romeo Dallaire’s ‘Shake Hands with the Devil.’ The overwhelming arrogance of the author left me so cold, I had to abandon it about a third of the way through.
Reading a book involves a contract between the buyer/reader and the author. I will give you twenty dollars or so, plus ten or twelve hours of my time, and you will entertain/inform/enlighten me in some fashion. I am agreeing to spend twelve hours listening to and considering their thoughts and opinion.
It is an intimate commitment, a close one-on-one between reader and writer. If it is not enjoyable then there must be some over-riding gain for me, the reader. When that gain is insignificant, I don’t feel compelled to spend that time with a weak mind, an arrogant blow hard, or a self-righteous preacher. The twenty dollars I wont get back, the twelve hours I can better spend.
I have a quote by Theodore Sturgeon saved. ‘It doesn’t matter what you write, what you believe will show through.’ Dallaire believes he could solve all the world’s problems if people would just do what he says.
So many people rated the book great. I guess they don’t read many really great books by wonderful talented writers. This isn’t one.