From the acclaimed Giller Prize Finalist and Governor General’s Award Winner: a delightfully funny and charming second novel about Canada’s smallest town.
Life in Winnipeg didn’t go as planned for Knute and her daughter. But living back in Algren with her parents and working for the longtime mayor, Hosea Funk, has its own challenges: Knute finds herself mixed up with Hosea’s attempts to achieve his dream of meeting the Prime Minister — even if that
means keeping the town’s population at an even 1500. Bringing to life small-town Canada and all its larger-than-life characters, A Boy of Good Breeding is a big-hearted, hilarious novel about finding out where you belong.
Miriam Toews (pronounced tâves) was born in 1964 in the small Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba. She left Steinbach at 18, living in Montreal and London and touring Europe before coming back to Manitoba, where she earned her B.A. in film studies at the University of Manitoba. Later she packed up with her children and partner and moved to Halifax to attend the University of King’s College, where she received her bachelor’s degree in journalism. Upon returning to Winnipeg with her family in 1991, she freelanced at the CBC, making radio documentaries. When her youngest daughter started nursery school, Toews decided it was time to try writing a novel.
Miriam Toews’s first novel, Summer of My Amazing Luck, was published in 1996; it was nominated for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and won the John Hirsch Award. Published two years later, her second novel, A Boy of Good Breeding, won the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award. She is also the author of Swing Low: A Life, a memoir of her father who committed suicide in 1998 after a lifelong struggle with manic depression. Swing Low won both the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award and the Alexander Kennedy Isbister Award for Non-Fiction. Toews has written for the CBC, This American Life (on National Public Radio), Saturday Night, Geist, Canadian Geographic, Open Letters and The New York Times Magazine, and has won the National Magazine Award Gold Medal for Humour.
Toews’s third novel, A Complicated Kindness, has been called “a black humour grenade, dealing a devastating explosion of gut-busting laughs alongside heart-wrenching sorrow.” The Globe and Mail quotes Toews as saying: “Sometimes I am bugged by my own tendency to continuously go for the laughs, but I am trying to be genuinely funny even if it’s in a dry, tragic way. I don’t know if there is a Mennonite type of humour, but growing up with my dad, from day one I felt it was my job to make him laugh.” The memory of her father has influenced Toews’s fiction in another profound way: “Loss inspired the story, loss with no answers. I think I needed to put that on Nomi. She was going to be the person who would take me through the process of dealing with loss and wondering where those people went.” She adds: “I have seen the damage that fundamentalism can do. The way the religion is being interpreted, it’s a culture of control and that emphasis on shame and punishment and guilt is not conducive to robust mental health.” Though she no longer attends a Mennonite church, Toews says that she still considers herself a Mennonite. And despite the novel’s exploration of the destructive elements of life in a small religious community, she says: “I hope that people will recognize that there are aspects of it that I really love and really miss.”
“A Boy of Good Breeding caught me at the throat, made me laugh and weep with sad-sweet joy …. [The characters ] get under your skin, and finally, it seems, into your very blood, where they quicken the heart ….Tonic for the spirit: a charming, deeply moving, unerringly human story, perfectly shaped and beautifully told.”
—The Globe and Mail
“Reading [Toews ] is like climbing into a fizzy bath of lunatic humour ….Buried in the mysteries of parenthood, love and death are at least a couple of home truths.”
“This is a lovely book; each character is a real person, fully realized ….But you’ll have to read A Boy of Good Breeding for yourself, to be moved by the story’s unfolding to a resolution that promises much; Toews has given us a novel that lets us write her characters’ futures.”
—Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal