Canadian authors, particularly female authors, have a unique voice that is always such a pleasure to read, even when the subject matter is not exactly uplifting. Miriam Toews deserves to be heralded right up there with the Margaret Atwoods of our country because her work is guaranteed to touch the hearts and minds of Canadian women. It isn’t just the geographical references or the idiom that Toews taps into so brilliantly, but she captures our rhythms, values, and sensibilities perfectly in her new book Summer of My Amazing Luck.
Most boomer women have never been in a situation that requires us to depend on welfare to keep ourselves fed, clothed and housed. For whatever reason, we have been fortunate enough to find jobs to support our lifestyle (well, sort of) and retire without worrying about where our next meal is coming from. That is not the case for everyone. Some people are born into inescapable poverty and others make life choices that land them in an alternate world of public housing, welfare cheques, and humiliating judgement by the other members of society.
Toews’s heroine in this story is Lucy, an eighteen-year-old single mother who is raising her baby son Dill (short for Dillinger) in the welfare system in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Lucy’s father is a respectable university professor but her mother’s death from cancer when Lucy was only fifteen, put her on a course of wild living and bad decisions. Left alone with an emotionally distant father who was too busy grieving his own loss and unable to give his daughter the support she needed, Lucy ends up pregnant and alone.
When she reaches the age of eighteen, Lucy is eligible for public housing. She moves into a complex called Have-a-Life which she and her fellow residents jokingly refer to as Half-a-Life. The women in her complex are mostly single mothers with multiple children by different fathers. Strict welfare regulations prohibit men and residents are constantly being monitored for any infraction of the rules which could result in their dole being cut off.
Lucy’s best friend at Half-a–Life is Lish, the single mother of four young girls including a set of twins. Loose-living Lish is always available for advice and support. Despite her circumstances, Lish seems relatively happy with her lifestyle, most of the time. She helps Lucy navigate the welfare system and the politics of close living in public housing with other single mothers. Everyone has a story and those stories make for a fascinating look into a world most of us have never and will never experience.
While Lish still carries the torch for the itinerant busker who fathered her twin daughters, Lucy is more cynical, indifferent to romance and is not even sure who fathered her baby son. There is very little plot in this book but it’s a fascinating stream of consciousness that delves into the lives and minds of vulnerable women who have little to look forward to. Their daily lives of survival and coping are complex and fascinating.
Toews is a masterful and sensitive documenter of the lives of women and her sharp insights into these particular women are a joy to read. We witness their daily routines, their challenges, and their relationships. Her characters are treated with respect and affection. When you finish reading, you will have a better understanding and a new respect for the world of single mothers and welfare living. I thoroughly enjoyed Summer of My Amazing Luck and I think you will too. Thank you Miriam Toews for another brilliant read.
If you are unable to obtain a copy of Summer of My Amazing Luck by Miriam Toews from your local bookstore or library, click on the image of the book to have a copy delivered direct to your door from Amazon.
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