A Complicated Kindness

I don’t read enough Canadian fiction. But A Complicated Kindness, lent to me by Ms. Alex Kaminska here at Continuum, is a wonderful novel about Nomi, a teenage Mennonite, who really really wants to be living a different kind of life. Preferably in the East Village. Although she doesn’t say pre- or post-hipsterisation. Here’s an extract.


I once had a conversation with my typing teacher about eternal life. He wanted me to define specifically what it was about the world that I wanted to experience. Smoking, drinking, writhing on a dance floor to the Rolling Stones? Not exactly, I told him, although I did think highly of Exile on Main Street. Then what, he kept asking me. Crime, drugs, promiscuity? No, I said, that wasn’t it either. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I ended up saying stupid stuff like I just want to be myself, I just want to do things without wondering if they’re a sin or not. I want to be free. I want to know what it’s like to be forgiven by another human being (I was stoned, obviously) and not have to wait around all my life anxiously wondering if I’m an okay person or not and having to die to find out. I wanted to experience goodness and humanity outside of any religious framework. I remember making finger quotations in the air when I said religious framework. God, I’m an asshole. I told him that if I heard one more person say it wasn’t up to him or her to judge, it was up to God, while, at the same time, they were judging their freakin’ heads off every minute of every day (I mean basically they had judged that the entire world was evil), I would put a sawed-off .22 in my mouth and pull the trigger. I told him I didn’t know what the big deal was about eternal life anyway. It seemed creepy to want to live forever. And that’s when he threw me out. I’m not saying he was wrong or anything, I just couldn’t ever figure out what was going on. It seemed like we were in some kind of absurd avant-garde theatre, the way our conversations sometimes went.
I once suggested that it was a really risky gamble to bet everything we had in this world on the possibility of another world, and in five seconds he was leading the entire class in prayer.


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