Summer of My Amazing Luck

Summer of My Amazing Luck

by Miriam Toews

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781582433462
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 07/28/2006
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 736,557
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

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.”

Read an Excerpt

One

Lish had been a lifer even before the trouble started with Serenity Place. She had four daughters, two of them with the same guy and the other two, twins, with a carefree street performer who had fallen in love with Lish’s hands. Perfect for balls, he’d said, juggling them that is. Now jugglers never make cracks about balls, Lish informed me, they just don’t. Lish knew a lot about the theatre, about working a room, drawing a crowd, about blocking and leading, about the superstitions of theatre people. She had always loved the stage. Or the street, or wherever it is that people perform. She had met the juggler in the hospitality suite of the hotel at which all the performers were staying. Volunteering, for Lish, was a good way to meet theatre people without violating welfare rules, and it was a nice break from the kids. This street performer, absent father of the twins, said he loved Lish and suggested that she join him on the road. He could teach her to eat fire, juggle knives, walk on stilts. He showed her a newspaper clipping of himself from The Miami Herald and the headline was “Magic, Music and Tomfoolery,” and then there was a photo of him breaking a chain with his ­chest.

Just like Zampano in “La Strada,” he’d said. Lish was giddy with the proposition and the free booze of the hospitality suite, and so she agreed to join him on the road, on the condition that she could bring her daughters, numbering two at the time. “Not a problem, not a problem,” he said, “they’ll bring in more cash,” and then he made a red handkerchief disappear up Lish’s nose. And, of course, reappear. Something he himself had failed to do after impregnating Lish in his hotel room that night, while her long beautiful hands caressed his oily back and the hot summer night got hotter. Lish found him irresistible with his sad eyes and his ­world-­weary bearing and silly jokes that in and of themselves weren’t funny at all, but when he said them seemed, at least to Lish, to define comedy. And Lish loved to laugh. What was funniest though to Lish was his utter seriousness about ­sex.

He didn’t say a word or crack a smile throughout, and Lish had to pretend that a snort of laughter she let escape while he focussed in on the homestretch was really an uncontrollable gasp of pleasure. She had hoped he’d think it was her unusual way of expressing herself while in the throes of passion. Snorting. But she wasn’t sure. In any case, it didn’t matter. The next morning while Lish slept sated and pregnant with not one but two of the busker’s babies, he made himself, along with Lish’s cotton purse, disappear for good. Lish said he had left a note that said “Catcha on the flip side.” Can you believe it? Lish said his juggling was much better than his ­writing.

For a while Lish wondered if her snorting had made him leave, but really she knew that it hadn’t been her, it had been the road, and there was nothing she or anyone else could do about it. Some people were just like that. All the road had to do was look up at them and they were gone. Poof. And so it was with the father of her twins. She wished she had found out what his name was, but hey . . . Lish was the kind of person who enjoyed telling this tale to people. It was romantic, reckless. And if the twins asked about their dad, she could build him up for them, make him a hero, a rogue, a poet, a jester. Once I pointed out to Lish that the twins might like more details, some fleshing out of the story, maybe an address or a present on their birthday, a postcard. Lish said, “Maybe. Maybe not.”

I know that Lish still kept a big silver spoon room service had brought up to the hotel room the night she and the busker got together, and the twins, when they were old enough, took turns using it to scoop the natural chunky peanut butter Lish bought at a health food ­co-­op. They’d say, “It’s my turn to use Dad’s spoon.” And Lish would smile and hand it over. Who knew what she was thinking. The older girls had a dad they saw fairly regularly and for a while were willing to let the twins use him as theirs, too. But the twins didn’t want him. They were happy enough with their ­own.

I should tell you right now how I got to where I am: single mother on the dole, public housing, all that. It wasn’t a goal of mine, certainly. As a child I never once dreamed, “I will be a poor mother.” I had fully intended to be a forest ranger. Now I realize there just isn’t enough human contact in that field for me. But then, look where human contact got me. They said I hadn’t grieved properly over my mother’s death. That was the reason I became promiscuous, they said. They said I snuck out of my bedroom window every night because I needed to forget. I needed to forget, they said, because I couldn’t bear the sadness of remembering. That’s what they meant by grieving properly: remembering. Remembering everything and reacting to it and releasing it. There was more to it, but I can’t remember what it was, ha ha. So I’m not proud of it or anything, but it happened. And it’s how I got to where I am. ­Half-­a-­Life Housing. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, city with the most hours of sunshine per year (that’s another thing they say).

––

Somewhere along the line I became pregnant. With Dill, my son who is now nine months old. His full name is Dillinger. I don’t know who his father is. Like Lish says, if you eat a whole can of beans, how do you know which one made you fart? I don’t think it’s the caretaker at my dad’s church, because Dill’s hands are very big. Those huge hands were the first thing I noticed about Dill. The caretaker, on the other hand, had very small hands. I remember, because after we’d had sex leaning up against the pulpit, he wandered over to the organ and started playing “Midnight Special.” I lay on top of the organ, naked as a cherub, and I remember peering down at the caretaker’s hands as he played. They were small and cupped and soft like a baby’s. So I’m quite sure he’s not Dill’s father. And, to tell you the truth, there were eight or nine other guys I was with at the time Dill was conceived, and most of them have faded from my memory. If I ever did know their names, I’ve just about forgotten them. At least I’ve tried to. And all this because I didn’t grieve ­properly.

Reading Group Guide

1. What role does luck play in the novel? What constitutes Lucy’s amazing luck in your view?

2. How do the characters in Summer of My Amazing Luck find a way to bring joy into their lives despite their circumstances?

3. What does the novel reveal about our society’s attitude toward welfare? Consider, for instance, how the women of Half-a-Life are treated with respect to having boyfriends or taking a vacation. Did the novel change your own views on social assistance or the people who receive it?

4. What does Lucy’s father mean when he tells her “Life is not a joke”? What does Lucy mean when she says “I wanted my life to be funny”?

5. How did you react to Lucy’s plan to fabricate letters from Gotcha to Lish? Were you surprised by Lish’s reaction when she discovers the truth?

6. How do the women of Half-a-Life seek to create an identity for themselves beyond “single mother on the dole”? What do Lucy and Lish think of this label?

7. “Mothers you can be sure of, fathers, well…they’re the kind of people whose heads always get chopped off in pictures.” Discuss the role of mothers and fathers in the novel.

8. Have you ever known anyone like Lish? Which of her antics, wisecracks and personality traits did you enjoy the most? Would you want her as a friend or neighbour?

9. What is the significance of the birth scene at the end of the novel–both symbolically and in terms of character development and plot? What realizations does Lucy come to?

10. How does Lucy begin to come to terms with her mother’s death?

11. For those of you who have read Toews’s previous books, discuss the role of the physically or psychologically absent father. Also, consider the way in which Toews portrays a small community in relation to the outside world.

12. In what ways might Lucy Van Alstyne of Summer of My Amazing Luck be considered a literary sister to Nomi Nickel of A Complicated Kindness?

Foreword

1. What role does luck play in the novel? What constitutes Lucy’s amazing luck in your view?

2. How do the characters in Summer of My Amazing Luck find a way to bring joy into their lives despite their circumstances?

3. What does the novel reveal about our society’s attitude toward welfare? Consider, for instance, how the women of Half-a-Life are treated with respect to having boyfriends or taking a vacation. Did the novel change your own views on social assistance or the people who receive it?

4. What does Lucy’s father mean when he tells her “Life is not a joke”? What does Lucy mean when she says “I wanted my life to be funny”?

5. How did you react to Lucy’s plan to fabricate letters from Gotcha to Lish? Were you surprised by Lish’s reaction when she discovers the truth?

6. How do the women of Half-a-Life seek to create an identity for themselves beyond “single mother on the dole”? What do Lucy and Lish think of this label?

7. “Mothers you can be sure of, fathers, well…they’re the kind of people whose heads always get chopped off in pictures.” Discuss the role of mothers and fathers in the novel.

8. Have you ever known anyone like Lish? Which of her antics, wisecracks and personality traits did you enjoy the most? Would you want her as a friend or neighbour?

9. What is the significance of the birth scene at the end of the novel–both symbolically and in terms of character development and plot? What realizations does Lucy come to?

10. How does Lucy begin to come to terms with her mother’sdeath?

11. For those of you who have read Toews’s previous books, discuss the role of the physically or psychologically absent father. Also, consider the way in which Toews portrays a small community in relation to the outside world.

12. In what ways might Lucy Van Alstyne of Summer of My Amazing Luck be considered a literary sister to Nomi Nickel of A Complicated Kindness?

Customer Reviews

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Summer of My Amazing Luck 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
judelbug on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Loved this book! I live in Canada, and so many of the weather references rang true to me. Thoroughly enjoyed the cast of characters, and the hilarious yet tragic vivid descriptions of common events in a young single mom's life ... 3 wheeled umbrella stroller in the rain, bike riding yuppster passing in spandex ...
Clif on LibraryThing 10 months ago
There's nothing amazing or lucky in this book. Perhaps a better title would have been, "My Down-And-Out Tale." Perhaps the title is trying to be ironic. It's a story about a single mother who's on welfare. Her situation is miserable. But her story is told with an air of humor and indifference to her environment. There aren't very many novels written about the welfare class. And there are even fewer novels written about women on welfare free of moralizing. This book simply tells the story, and it is what it is. In this way Miriam Toews demonstrates her ability to make her writing interesting while writing about common uneventful sorts of things.In some ways this book could be described as a first person narrative focusing of trivial everyday sorts of thoughts and feelings. There are some symbols and motifs for people who look for them: rain, washing off graffiti, diverting storm water from one place to another, flooded basements, a journey to nowhere. Then near the end there is some excitement and new hope. It ends with mild optimism, but certainly no "happily ever after."The following quotation caught my eye for some reason. It's two poor people talking about being poor:"Yeah, but we're poor because we're stupid. And being poor makes us more stupid.""No, it doesn't. It makes other people think we're stupid. You know there are so many pissed-off people who are considered much more successful than me, but I think I'm happy, I feel happy. I don't know why. I have Dill. I'm young. We're on the road. Stuff's happening. I wish it was enough to be happy. It should be, you know. That should be the mark of success, you know, just a general feeling of happiness...."
Reading_Bear More than 1 year ago
This book was given to me with the comment that it was "hilarious". I don't know if I would call it hilarious. I don't know if I would call it funny at all. It is about a group of Welfare mom's in Winnipeg MB. All with multiple children with multiple fathers. Living in the fantasy world that sex equals acceptance. Lazy and no interst in finding a job of any way to support themselves other than my tax dollars.

I live in Winnipeg, and let me tell you the discription in this book of the characters is bang on.

I don't know if I enjoyed this book. It mostly upset me because all the ways they describe about scamming the system are true. The more I read this book the more upset I became. I am sure this is more non-fiction than fiction.

Still, I couldn't stop reading it. I would recommed this to book clubs. Perhaps they could find out where the "Luck" in the title comes in. It may be a coming of age story or realization. I don't know because I think just disliked how real it was.

I could just be jaded and hated the characters because I see those people everday and I just can't stand it, being a hard working tax payer.

Despite my personal feelings. This book is worth the read.