Boy of Good Breeding

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Gregory Cowles
Even though the ending is pretty much a foregone conclusion, it’s hard not to root for the amiable sad sack Hosea. For that matter, knowing she was about to break through to far more serious funny books, it’s hard to read these charming tall tales and not root for the young Miriam Toews.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
In the tradition of Lake Wobegon, Toews (A Complicated Kindness) gives us Algren, Manitoba, a town noteworthy because, with 1,500 colorful residents (give or take), it ranks as Canada's smallest town. For the town's painfully shy mayor, Hosea Funk, Algren's small population spurs both pride and constant anxiety. He tallies births, deaths and all other arrivals and departures to make sure the population hews to the magic number 1,500-less than that, and the town diminishes to a mere village, but more than that and Algren might outgrow its title. Funk's obsession isn't motivated just by bragging rights, but also by a family secret: on her deathbed, Funk's mother told him that the prime minister of Canada is his long-lost father, and that same prime minister has pledged to visit the smallest Canadian town. When single mother Knute McCloud and her kinetic young daughter return to Algren and Funk's own long-distance romance threatens to catch up with him, Funk's compulsive people-counting tests his already awkward human relationships. First published in Canada in 1998, this is a sweet, funny novel full of memorable, picaresque characters and unexpected drama. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A charming novel by Canadian author Toews (A Complicated Kindness, 2004) reveals what it's like to live in the smallest town in Canada. Hosea Funk is the mayor of Algren, Manitoba, and proud to represent Canada's smallest town, although (considering the relentless births and deaths) the population is constantly fluctuating. Canada's prime minister, John Baert, has written a letter to Hosea notifying him of an official congratulatory visit on July 1-as the son of a single teenaged mother who passed off his birth as a miraculous nighttime encounter with a man on a horse, Hosea is convinced that the prime minister is his father and plans to tell him so. Meanwhile, Algren has new residents in the form of 24-year-old single mom Knute and her three-year-old daughter, Summer Feelin', who has a curious way of flapping her arms like a bird when she's excited. The childlike mother and daughter are invited back home to stay with Knute's mother, Dory, who is at her wit's end taking care of her incommunicative husband, Tom, who's been debilitated by a stroke. While Hosea is tearing out his hair with news of the birth of Veronica Epp's triplets, he is also head-over-heels in love with Winnipeg divorcee Lorna Garden, but too emotionally stilted to tell her, and she's growing restive by their long-distance romance. Also, goodhearted, clueless Hosea offers Knute a sinecure in the mayor's office, answering phones and smoking cigarettes while perched on the windowsill. Eventually, Summer Feelin's father-the incorrigible Max, son of the noisy rich alcoholic Combine Jo-comes back to town, and all is soon forgiven since nothing ever changes in this town. An earnest, sweet-tempered narrative.
From the Publisher
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.”
Toronto Star

“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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582433400
  • Publisher: Counterpoint Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 1,461,993
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

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.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

one

Algren was Canada’s smallest town. It really was. Canada’s Smallest Town. It said so on a big old billboard right outside the town limits and Knute had checked with one of those government offices in the blue pages and they said fifteen hundred is what you need for a town. And that’s what Algren had. If it had one less it would be a village and if it had just one more it would be a bigger town. Like all the rest of the small towns. Being the smallest was its claim to fame.

Knute had come to Algren, from the city of Winnipeg, to look after her dad who’d had a heart attack. And to relieve her mom who said if she spent one more day in the house she’d go insane.

She was twenty-four years old. Her mother, Dory, had intended her name to be pronounced “Noot uh,” but nobody got it so it became just Knute, like “Noot.” Even her mom had given up on the “uh” part but did from time to time call her Knutie or sometimes, and she hated this, Knuter.

Knute had a daughter, Summer Feelin’, and Summer Feelin’ had a strange way of shaking when she was excited. She flapped her arms, and her fingers moved quickly as though she were typing to save her life, and sometimes her head went back and her mouth opened wide and sounds like aaah and uh-uh-uh came out of it.

When she first started doing it, Knute thought it was cute. Summer Feelin’ looked like she’d lift right off the ground. But then Knute started worrying about it and decided to take her to a specialist, a pediatric neurologist. He did a number of tests, including an encephalogram. Summer Feelin’ liked the wires and enjoyed the attention but told the doctor that flapping was just something she was born to do.

Eventually after all the results came in and the charts had been read and analyzed, he agreed with her. She was born to flap. There was no sign of strange electrical activity in her brain, no reason to do a CAT scan, and all accounts of her birth indicated no trauma had occurred, nothing untoward as she had made her way through Knute’s birth canal and into this world.

Every night Knute lay down with Summer Feelin’. That was the time S.F. told Knute stories and let her in on her big plans and Knute could feel her daughter’s body tremble with excitement. It quivered. It shook. It was out of her control. Knute would hold Summer Feelin’ until she stopped shaking, maybe a twitch or two or a shudder, and fell asleep. The specialist said S.F.’s condition, which wasn’t really a condition, was very rare but nothing to worry about. Then he’d added, in a thoughtful way, that the condition or lack of condition might be the precipitator to that rare phenomenon known as spontaneous combustion. So Knute worried, from time to time, about S.F. bursting into flames for no apparent reason. And that was the type of concern she couldn’t really explain to people, even close friends, without them asking her if she needed a nap or what she’d been reading lately or just plain laughing at her.

March was the month that Knute and Summer Feelin’ arrived in Algren. Tom had had a heart attack (or his heart attack, as Dory called it) in December. He’d been putting up the last decorations on the tree and BAM, it happened. He fell over, and because he was sort of clutching at the tree it fell on top of him. Ten days later, in the sterile intensive care ward of the hospital, nurses were still finding tiny pine needles in his hair and in the many creases of his skin. He picked up a nasty infection called septicemia in the hospital and, as a result, his lungs malfunctioned and he was put on a respirator. Of course, he couldn’t talk, but in his more lucid, pain-free moments he could write. Sort of. All he ever wrote, in a barely legible scrawl either stretched out over the whole page or sometimes scrunched up in the bottom corner, was “How is the tree?” Or “Is the tree okay?” Or “Is the tree up?” Or “I’m sorry about the tree.”

One day in the hospital Dory told him, “Tom, it’s Christmas Day today. Merry Christmas, sweetheart.”

His eyes were closed but he squeezed her hand. She said, “Do you remember Christmas, darling?”

And he opened his eyes and looked up at her and shook his head. Yet the next day, again, he wrote about the tree. He couldn’t remember Christmas, but he knew a tree should, for some reason, be erected in his living room.

Gradually he could remember a bit more and he could spell “world” backwards and count by sevens and all those things they’d asked him to do in the hospital when he was off the respirator and out of intensive care, but still he had a strange scattered memory, like, for instance, he knew he must, absolutely must, shave every morning, but he was unsure why. He reminded Dory to check the battery in the smoke detector, but when she said, “Oh, Tom, what’s the worst that can happen if our battery is dead for a day or two?” he didn’t have an answer. So he was caught in a bind where he was committed to doing what he’d always done but he couldn’t remember why he was doing it. His life, some might have said, had no purpose.

Neither did Knute’s, really. Summer Feelin’ was in a day care that she hated and Knute was working full time as a hostess in a busy downtown restaurant where everybody was used to seating themselves. She wasn’t aggressive enough to say, “Hey, can’t you read the sign? It says ‘wait to be seated,’” and so, pretty much, she just stood there all day smiling and feeling stupid. From time to time she moved the sign right in front of the door, but people would walk into it and then move it back out of their way. Sometimes the waitresses got mad at her because she wasn’t seating anybody in their sections or because everybody was sitting in their section and they were run off their feet trying to keep up with the orders. Then, for a while, Knute would try to keep people from walking past her and she’d say things like, “Please follow me,” or “A table will be ready in a minute,” or “How many of you are there?” Usually there would be two and when she asked how many of them there were, they’d look at each other like she was nuts, then they’d hold up two fingers or point at each other and say, “one, two,” in a loud voice.

“Two!” Knute would say, “okay, two, hmmm . . . two, you say,” like she was trying to figure out how to seat twelve. Then she’d meander around and around the restaurant with them behind her, suggesting possible tables, and she’d say, “Oh no, I think, well, no, well, yes, okay, sure, right here is fine. Wherever you want, really, I guess.”

Her boss’s wife and all the waitresses and the dishwasher and the two cooks kept telling him to fire her, but her boss kept giving her more chances. He told Knute she’d get the hang of it in a while, just get in their faces and make them wait. “They’re like pigs at the trough,” he said. “You gotta keep ’em under control.”

On her first day Knute had actually managed to lead an old couple to a table. But somehow they got their wires crossed, and Knute pulled a chair away from the table just as the man was going to sit on it. In slow motion he fell to the ground while Knute and his wife stared, horrified. As he fell, he knocked over the fake flower arrangement and the vase shattered.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2006

    Winner of the McNally Robinson Book of the Year award

    Winner of the McNally Robinson Book of the Year award and ably narrated by Ruth McIntosh, A Boy Of Good Breeding by Miriam Toews is an abridged audiobook set in a small Canadian town - a town so small that the Mayor schemes to keep the population at an even 1,500 to win a contest for being the smallest town in the nation. Young mother Knute and her four-year-old daughter have returned to town to escape the havoc of the big city, but when the mayor enlists Knute for his schemes, she must figure out how to keep the town population down when folks keep getting married, having babies, and more. The return of Knute's old boyfriend Max further complicates issues in this charming, down-home folksy story, originally broadcast on CBC radio. 3 CDs, 4 hours.

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