Miriam Toews on the Rebellion of Exuberance
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On writing a nine-year-old narrator:
MK: Tell me about writing the character of nine-year-old Swiv in her voice, but showing the reader about all of the things she doesn’t understand.
MT: The biggest challenge was to make sure that voice was authentic and also entertaining. The reader is sensing and understanding things that are going on in a way that Swiv perhaps doesn’t, but is coming to. So they’re working together at the same pace—Swiv and the reader—to understand what’s really going on and what they’re up against. The constant seeking and searching that Swiv is experiencing is the thing that drives the novel. It’s not a detective novel, but certain layers get pulled away and we can see Swiv’s limited understanding of what’s going on.
On her mother as character inspiration:
MK: In the book Elvira has the ability to laugh even when she’s in a lot of physical pain. How?
MT: The pain that she has survived emotionally and mentally and in life, with loss and everything she’s experienced in her childhood and the community she comes from, is one thing. But she is in a lot of physical pain. That’s another remarkable thing about Elvira, my mother [who inspired the character]. She is in constant physical pain and she’s on tons of different medications to try to mitigate it. And yet almost on a daily basis she says, “Don’t worry about it, it’s just pain. What are you gonna do? I’m not dying, it’s just pain.” This is a strange concept to me because when I’m in pain I’m not exactly laughing and throwing out bits of wisdom. I’m complaining.
On growing up in a closed community:
MT: My mother grew up, as did I, in this very closed and controlled community, very authoritarian and patriarchal and fundamentalist. Certain things like silence and obedience were expected of women especially. Yet there was something that rebelled against all of that all of the time from day one, but in a way that was a form of rebellion of exuberance. I’m here and I’m alive. She’s still a devout Mennonite. God made her. God gave her a voice. God gave her a mind and a heart. She carved out her own religion and said I’m going to express myself, I’m going to reach out to others and not live in this closed off way. I’m not going to be controlled because those are the rules of men and that’s not my religion.
Miriam Toews is the author of seven previous bestselling novels, Women Talking, All My Puny Sorrows, Summer of My Amazing Luck, A Boy of Good Breeding, A Complicated Kindness, The Flying Troutmans, and Irma Voth, and one work of nonfiction, Swing Low: A Life. Her latest novel is called Fight Night. She lives in Toronto.