(Readers–I revised this post a little, not realizing that it would have to re-post and re-publish. Sorry you’re receiving this slightly changed version of this in your email.)
Imagination is the beginning of creation. George Bernard Shaw
As I continue to think about Women Talking, the novel by Miriam Toews (rhymes with saves) and the movie directed by Sarah Polley, I read reviews and watch interviews on YouTube. I’ve also checked out some of Toews’s previous books.
Swing Low: A Life (2000) is classified as non-fiction, though it’s unclassifiable. It’s a memoir created by Miriam but narrated (fictionally) by her father Mel. He was a gifted teacher and a quiet, cautious Mennonite man. In 1998, he walked out of the hospital where he was being treated for depression and killed himself. Miriam was 34. The book records his thoughts, imagined by Miriam, during his last hospitalization.
Mel’s voice in Swing Low is earnest, sometimes funny, and self-deprecating to a fault. Miriam seems able to feel, and make us feel, the grief and illusions of his sadness. He could infuriate his nurses, his wife Elvira, and his attentive daughters, but Miriam seems able to transplant herself into her father’s tormented mind.
As I read, I recall that the elders of the Mennonite community termed the sexual violence in their midst “the result of wild female imagination.” Toews slyly steals the phrase to describe her own Women Talking as “an act of female imagination.” That phrase also describes Swing Low, a book unlike anything else I’ve ever read.