One of our sales reps, Cindy, recently sent me a copy of a book that’s coming out in November called All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. “I loved this book,” she said, “And think it’s one you’ll like too.” I read the synopsis: Elf and Yoli are sisters. While on the surface Elfrieda's life is enviable (she's a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, and happily married) and Yolandi's a mess (she's divorced and broke, with two teenagers growing up too quickly), they are fiercely close -- raised in a Mennonite household and sharing the hardship of Elf's desire to end her life. After Elf's latest attempt, Yoli must quickly determine how to keep her family from falling apart, how to keep her own heart from breaking, and what it means to love someone who wants to die.
“Do I really want to read this book?” I thought. More importantly, I wondered what about this book made Cindy think I’d enjoy it? Yeah, I do move toward darker stories, heavier topics, the kinds of books that my mom often sees me reading and warily says things like, “Doesn’t that bring you down?”
Maybe a little background info is needed here. Depression is a little dark friend that has loomed around me since I was a child. What was once simply waved off as me being “the sensitive child” has officially been diagnosed as that lovely creature that mostly tiptoes around, but occasionally decides to yell and scream. So when my mom sees me reading “downer” books, I understand why she’s concerned.
I’m ok with my inclination toward depressing books. What worried me when Cindy sent me the book was how she perceived me. I wondered if I wear my melancholy on my face, or maybe she’s noticed a forced smile here and there. Because although I’ve claimed my depression and am open to talk about it, I try not to keep it on display.
Regardless of her reasons for sending me this book, I did start reading it. I’m only halfway through, but it’s good. It’s kicking me out of yet another reading funk. And although I do feel a morbid kinship with Elf, it’s the other characters in the book that are keeping my attention. Their longing for Elf’s survival and ends-of-the-earth determination to be there for her no matter what are giving me insights into what my family must have felt and thought, and will most likely face again, throughout the years with me. I don’t know if it’s possible to love my family any more than I already do, but if it is, this book would make it happen.
I don’t know how this book will end. Spoiler alert: Elf may die. She may even die at her sister’s hands. But what will stay with me from this book is the absolute love of family and what we’ll do for the people who mean the world to us.