A book dark in nature but brightening of the soul

Anderson reflects on one of her favorite novels

More stories from Alyssa Anderson

Getting Weird
December 13, 2018


Nothing stresses me out more than when people ask me what my favorite book is.

To be honest, my answer changes weekly. It seems that every time I put down a newly-finished book, I find myself completely convinced I have discovered a masterpiece.

Nevertheless, there are several books that have found a special place in my literature-obsessed heart. There is one book that sticks out among the rest and I feel I can confidently rank it as a strong contender for my favorite novel of all time, which is saying a lot.

While it is nearly impossible for me to choose one singular piece of literature as my favorite, Miriam Toews’ novel “All My Puny Sorrows” has touched a place deep within me that other novels seldom reach.

In her award-winning 2010 novel, Miriam Toews manages to shed light on the darkest places of the human experience. Inspired by her own sister’s suicide, Toews tells the story of two sisters, the self-destructive Elf and her guardian angel and younger sister, Yoli.

Elf, a profoundly talented concert pianist and vagabond of sorts, desperately wants to die while her divorced and down-on-her-luck sister Yoli struggles to keep her from herself. With razor sharp wit and captivating language, this novel is a heart-wrenching examination of life, love and what it means to be a family.

Though the plot of “All My Puny Sorrows” isn’t exactly light reading material, Toews’ dry humor and quirky characters had me laughing with the turn of every page. This novel is a special one; few pieces of literature have ever left me lying awake at night, pondering my existence. This book gave me the existential crisis I needed all along, I guess.

“What holds this novel together, stops it from becoming saturated with sorrow, is a wit so sharp it hurts to laugh at certain scenes,” Anita Sethi said in an article from The Guardian.

As a journalist and self-respecting individual, I try to avoid cliches as much as I possibly can, but this book seriously changed my life. It accomplished everything good literature is supposed to accomplish; it made me question my beliefs, and even my relationships. The best thing a novel can do is make you think, and boy did this one make me think.

Toews has accomplished something incredibly unique with “All My Puny Sorrows.” She has somehow managed to tell a sad story while somehow leaving readers with a warm feeling in the end. Toews had me laughing one minute but teary-eyed the next.

This book made me an emotional wreck. However, the only books worth reading are the ones that majorly mess with your emotions. If you ever decide to pick up this novel and give it a whirl, be prepared for a commitment. I guarantee this novel is impossible to put down.

If you find yourself in need of some potentially life-changing literature, stay tuned this semester for more reviews of some of my highly recommended books.