A Complicated Kindness is a true-to-life story told by a 16-years-old teenager, Nomi Nickel. This story can be called a psychoanalytical narration because first-person narration and constant leaps from present into past create a deep psychological portray of a young girls. Short story contains a lot of her reflections on such topics as death and life, love and happiness, despair and hope. “Offering incisive reflections on life, death and Lou Reed, the black-sheep Nomi is clearly wise beyond her years, and her voice is unique. The road to anywhere else may be rough for her, but her angst-ridden journey is unforgettable”¯ (Epp, 184). This story is fascinating due to the style of narration ”“ Nomi retells a story of her life and we become witnesses of this story sympathizing when she is depressed and laughing together with her when she is delighted.
Miriam Toews was able to create such a fascinating, touching and true-to-life story because she herself was born in practically the same place as the Mennonite community. She had the feelings and emotions her main young character has. The narrative voice is very strong in the novel, we feel the author’s presence under the figure of the main character. However, it does not prevent the story from being bright, even more ”“ it adds to the story of Nomi real emotions taken from life. This peculiarity makes the work so attractive from the psychoanalytical perspective.
This fact makes it possible to analyses the author’s personality on the example of her main character. What is more important the story deals with childhood memories ”“ memories which influence our further life position. Close identification of the author and her main character allows us to make consumption that Miriam experienced the same feelings in her childhood and has similar memories.
From the first pages of the book we realize that the girl, Nomi, is abandoned by her mother and elder sister and now she lives with her father Ray, a schoolteacher. Nomi lives between present and past. In present she wants to finish high school, she rebels against so strict and conservative norms of her community in a little town – Southern Manitoba. At the same time she is wandering across the town, going out with a boy called Travis and skipping her classes. She spends a lot of time on Suicide Hill reflecting about her life.
Despite Nomi’s wish to forget past and live in the present moments her memories all the time return to the departure of her mother Trudie, who was always kind and warm, and her sister Tash, a girl of magnificent beauty. Although it happened three years ago Nomi recalls in her memory times from her childhood when she was really happy. Nomi’s father can not be called the most caring father of the world. He more neglects his daughter than cares about her, however he loves her in his own way, this type of love can be called unconditional love. The daughter and the father choose different ways to come in terms with their loss. While father, being the elder of the church, tries to create an image of order in the town “organizing the garbage in a way [he] feels makes sense”¯, Nomi hides in the chaos around her and is absorbed into her memories and imagination.
From the psychoanalytical perspective this novel is of great significance because the author, Miriam Toewes, concentrates on the inner feelings and suffering of a young girl. The whole work is devoted to the problems of self-search and self-development. It shows the personal growth and the inner changes through the eyes of the main character. The first-person narration is not chosen accidentally, it helps to develop the main character Ā from different perspectives taking into account every detail and every shade of emotions.Ā Nomi stays alone with her thoughts about lost happiness: she is neglected by her father, abandoned by the rest of her family, betrayed by her boyfriend and ignored by her community. Life may seem useless in such a way, nevertheless, Nomi does not lose hope to find this lost happiness. It is a kind of paradox but this is pain of lost, despair, deep mortification that gives us great life experience, changes our world outlook, changes our inner world and makes us move further and develop. Step by step, Nomi comes through pains and difficulties. In the end, she reaches the top of this ladder ”“ she is overwhelmed by grief and sense of hypocrisy and it seems that she will not be able to overcome this pain. This is a climax of the story. However, as it often happens in our life, reaching this critical point Nomi does not only fall down but gets an opportunity to see the situation from a new perspective. She analyzes the deep meaning of her life situations and gains life experience.
Nomi is a member of a Mennonite community. In this community a young girl can not find her place. Its norms and standards are not appropriate for a teenager with her free thoughts. Free-thinking is condemned in this society.
People of this community live without any purpose rejecting any kind of pleasure or movement in any direction: “Imagine the least well-adjusted kid in your school starting a breakaway clique of people whose manifesto includes a ban on the media, dancing, smoking, temperate climates, movies, drinking, rock’n’roll, having sex for fun, swimming, makeup, jewellery, playing pool, going to cities, or staying up past nine o’clock. That was Menno all over.
Thanks a lot, Menno”¯ (Toews, 15). Social atmosphere depicted by the author serves as one more psychological technique to emphasize the girls’ alienation and confrontation with the surrounding world.
We can make a parallel between Nomi Nickel and Holden Caulfield, the main character of the famous book Catcher in the Rye. Both, Nomi and Holden are not satisfied with their life, they rebel against conservative society trying to find their own way. They have already passed the childhood stage but are not still ready to enter the grown-up life.
This period is always difficult for teenagers especially if they do not have support from parents or friends. Nomi is lost in this strange world. “This town is so severe. And silent. It makes me crazy, the silence. I wonder if a person can die from it. The town office building has a giant filing cabinet full of death certificates that say choked to death on his own anger or suffocated from unexpressed feelings of unhappiness”¯ (Toews, 43). Nomi is afraid of silence because in silence she stays with her thoughts and fears. She often thinks about death. Death is a mystery for her which is frightening and fascinating at the same time.
The community of the Mennonites is the centre of fundamentalist religion and it oppresses Nomi. Nomi’s understanding of God often comes in confrontation with the church interpretation and presentation. Nomi being a person of analytical skills can not accept religion a priori. Belief is inner inspiration and excitement and it is not in church’s power to make or not to make her believe in God. The history of her community also concerns the young girl’s heart: “We’re Mennonites. As far as I know, we are the most embarrassing sub-sect of people to belong to if you’re a teenager. Five hundred years ago in Europe a man named Menno Simons set off to do his own peculiar religious thing and he and his followers were beaten up and killed or forced to conform”¯ (Toews, 11). The Mennonites are used to being ruled and oppresses and Nomi does not accept this life position. Being yet a teenager and an idealist in her heart, she is striving to be independent and take decisions by herself.
However, at the same time two opposing feeling are fighting in Nomi’s heart ”“ she can’t stand this town but it is the closest thing to her heart and she will not abandon it as her mother and sister have done. It is difficult to realize especially for a girl of 16-years that one thing or place can cause such different feelings ”“ alienation and closeness.
The community creates some intimate atmosphere and it is this kindness that Nomi calls “a complicated kindness”¯: “But there is a kindness here, a complicated kindness. You can see it sometimes in the eyes of people when they look at you and don’t know what to say. When they ask how my dad is, for instance, and mean how am I managing without my mother”¯ (Toews, 113). Despite all pain and sufferings Nomi feels a close unity with her community and her native town, it makes her feel stronger. Still she is just a little girl whose family is half-gone and whose father is always half-present. She makes experiments with drugs, sex and other things available in a town. However, her inner thoughts and feelings give a hope that she will start moving in a new direction.
To sum up, Miriam Toews’ book “A Complicated Kindness”¯ presents an interesting masterpiece from psychoanalytical perspective. The main character and at the same time narrator of the story is a 16-years-old teenager, Nomi. This story is a story of Nomi’s feelings and emotions, her inner transformations and adaptation to the social surrounding. Being abandoned by her mother and elder sister she can not accept this fact and returns all the time to her childhood memories when her family was united. She lives in a severe community, in which restrictions and rules play a great role. She rebels against the laws of this community. Her inner feeling of freedom and independence stand in confrontation with the dominative rules of her community. However, it is a kind of paradox, but it is this community that becomes the closest thing for her heart. It gives her power to be strong, overcome her pain and despair and move further.