A Novel by the Governor General’s Literary Award—winning author of A Complicated Kindness
Lucy Van Alstyne always thought she’d grow up to become a forest ranger. Instead, at the age of eighteen, she’s found herself with quite a different job title: Single Mother on the Dole. As for the father of her nine-month-old son, Dillinger, well…it could be any of number of guys.
At the Have-a-Life housing project–aptly nicknamed Half-a-Life by those who call it home–Lucy meets Lish, a zany and exuberant woman whose idea of fashion is a black beret with a big silver spider brooch stuck on it. Lish is the mother of four daughters, two by a man on welfare himself and twins from a one-week stand with a fire-eating busker who stole her heart–and her wallet.
Living on the dole isn’t a walk in the park for Lucy and Lish. Dinner almost always consists of noodles. Transportation means pushing a crappy stroller through the rain. Then there are the condescending welfare agents with their dreaded surprise inspections. And just across the street is Serenity Place, another housing project with which Half-a-Life is engaged in a full-on feud. When the women aren’t busy snitching on each other, they’re spreading rumours–or plotting elaborate acts of revenge.
In the middle of a mosquito-infested rainy season, Lish and Lucy decide to escape the craziness of Half-A-Life by taking to the road. In a van held together with coat-hangers and electrical tape and crammed to the hilt with kids and toys, they set off to Colorado in search Lish’s lost love and the father of her twins. Whether they’ll find him is questionable, but the down-and-out adventure helps Lucy realize that this just may be the summer of her amazing luck.
Miriam Toews’s debut novel, Summer of My Amazing Luck opens our eyes to a social class rarely captured in fiction. At once hilarious and heartbreaking, it is inhabited by an unforgettable and poignant group of characters. Shortlisted for both the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award and for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, it also earned Miriam the John Hirsch Award for the Most Promising Manitoba Writer.
Miriam Toews (pronounced tâves) was born in 1964 in the small Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba. She left Steinbach at eighteen, living in Montreal and London and touring Europe before coming back to Manitoba, where she earned a 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 a 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. Her most recent novel is the bestselling A Complicated Kindness, which was a Giller Prize Finalist and won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. Toews has also 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 she has won the National Magazine Award Gold Medal for Humour.
In an interview with Herizons magazine, Toews discusses the motif of the absent mother in both Summer of My Amazing Luck and A Complicated Kindness: “The relationship I have with my mother is so strong and loving and fun, that maybe I had to, in order to have a character who was working through something difficult, have her gone – dead, or missing, or whatever, just absent – in order to create that conflict for my character. And, to get all psychoanalytical about it, I’ve been trying to understand my father for a long time now, and I think that in my own life, growing up, etcetera, my mother was sort of this buffer between him and me, in that she kind of protected me from his sadness and tried to make life fun and upbeat all the time. So maybe, in order for my character to understand her father better, and assuming that my characters are in some ways me, that particular buffer has to be removed.”
Praise for Summer of My Amazing Luck:
“A comic take on what initially appears a most improbable topic for humour … it works.”
–The Globe and Mail
“In a style rather like Barbara Kingsolver, Toews has her characters find a way to make joy in their lives.”
–Winnipeg Free Press
Praise for the writing of Miriam Toews:
“Wise, edgy, unforgettable.”
–The Globe and Mail
“Brilliant … there is beauty and compassion in [Toews’s] portrayal of Nomi’s struggle.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“Exquisitely written and faceted…. Heartbreaking and humorous…. From beginning to end the book is unusually calibrated and incredibly compelling.”
–The Guardian (UK)
“Told with the slouchy, cool grace of a misfit teen, this sparkly novel is destined to become a coming-of-age classic.”
“At first Toews’s characters seem merely quirky; then they get under your skin, and finally, it seems, into your very blood, where they quicken the heart.”
–The Globe and Mail
“Delightfully humourous, subversive and naughtily clever.”