Saturday, August 05, 2006
Summer of My Amazing Luck.
Miriam Toews still places near the top of my list of Canadian writers. (She's at the very top of my Menno-Canadian writers list.) On the bus to Toronto, and then on the Train to Ottawa, I read her earliest (?), recently edited and re-published novel, Summer of My Amazing Luck and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Summer's story revolves around two single mom's on welfare in a community housing project in Winnipeg. Lucy is an 18-year-old mother of one, who is just learning the ropes and the culture surrounding her situation. Lish is Lucy's surrogate mom and a social assistance lifer--a hippyish, eccentric mother of 4. Lucy and Lish's friendship develops as the plot progresses, and their adventures culminate in a cross-border trip in a ramshackle van (kids and all) in a search to find the father of Lish's twins. Throughout the book, Lucy is struggling to find her place and her purpose and to comes to terms with her mother's death and to learn how to reconnect with her father.
I would place this book into the heartwarming, beach-read category. So good!
This is probably the most lighthearted of all of Toews' novels. While it still has tinges of the dark humour that made me love A Complicated Kindness and hints of the sentimentality that made Swing Low: A Life resonate with me, there is something less heart-clenching and gut-wrenching about this one.
Toews, as always, creates a cast of characters that you're intrigued to meet and get to know better. She also has these little episodes that stand as hilarious unto themselves.
There are many reasons why I can identify with Toews characters. One reason is the cultural references. A couple of excerpts to make my point:
"You know," she said, "I feel like that puppet in Mr. Dressup, what's her name? Casey?"
"I think it's a he," I said.
"Whatever--have you ever noticed how bitchy she is?"
"he," I said. "Yeah, he's got a short fuse. I would too if all I had for company week after week as an old man and a dog."
"And if you were a puppet," added Lish.
'Right," I said. I nodded.
"And Lucy! You're Finnegan! You're the dog! You keep nodding and not saying much." Lish loved this idea, she was laughing. She put her head next to mine. "What's that, Finnegan?" she said in a high voice. "You want to get going?"
"Woof," I said.
Letita was staring at us. "Finnegan doesn't make any noise at all, Lucy," she said in a serious tone. Lish just laughed.
(That's off page 178 of my copy.)
And Excerpt #2, on the Massey-Ferguson/John Deere divide in rural communities:
...when their daughter, Lish's mom, began dating her neighbour, Lish's dad, the shit hit the fan, because Lish's father's family used Massey Ferguson equipment. In that area there was an ongoing feud between John Heere users and Massey Ferguson users. Something about the French buying one brand and the Ukrainians buying another, originally. Both campus swore up and down that theirs was the best, and because farming was their life, it was a big deal. So, for a John Deere girl and a Massey Ferguson boy ot be dating, that was asking for trouble. It was like the Montagues and the Caulets. In the only café in the neighbouring town, the John Deere clan sat on one side and the Massey Ferguson sat on the other. Sometimes the more good-natured farmers would try a little bit of friendly debate with someone from the other side, but they'd get glared down so fast even the waitress forgot to refill their coffee cups for the rest of the day. The waitress's family was a Massey Gerfuson family, but she said as long as there was no fighting, she'd serve the John Deeres in the restaurant same as everyone else.) Everyone waited eagerly for someone from the other side to get their arm cut off or a piston blown because of a faulty part, but when it happened to one of their own it was very hush-hush. Repairs were done in the night, so no one from the other side would notice there was a problem.
ps. Summer of My Amazing Luck has been re-written as a play. (Go figure that it was performed at Ottawa U last summer and I missed it!) Here's a description and here's a review.