Excerpt from Irma Voth by Miriam Toews, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Irma Voth

A Novel

by Miriam Toews

Irma Voth
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2011, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2012, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer Dawson Oakes

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Some people are staring at us, he said.

No they're not, I said.

Well, actually they are. Look at that guy over there. He was about to lift his arm and point but I said no, please, don't.

He told me he thought it was strange that a Mennonite girl was at a rodeo and I told him that yeah it was. I tried to explain the rules my father had but that he was out of town and my mother was tired and all that and then we started talking about mothers and fathers and eventually he told me this story about his dad.

All I really understood was that his father had left his mother when he was a little boy and that one day his mother had told him he was going to meet him for the first time and he better look sharp and behave himself. She said she was going to drop him off on this corner by their house and his dad would be there waiting for him and then they could have a conversation, maybe get a meal together, and then the dad would drop him back off on that corner when they were done. So Jorge, he was five years old, decided he had better clean up his sneakers, especially if he wanted to look sharp for his dad. He washed them in the bathtub with shampoo and then he put them in the sun to dry. When it was time to go, his mom dropped him off at the corner and said goodbye and left and Jorge stood there for a long time, waiting. The sky got darker and darker. Finally it started to rain and Jorge started to worry. Where was his dad? Some men in cars drove past him but nobody stopped to pick him up. It started to rain harder. Then Jorge looked down at his shoes and noticed that they were foaming. Bubbles were floating around by his shoes and he didn't know what was going on. He was too young to understand that he hadn't rinsed his sneakers when he washed them with shampoo and now the rain was rinsing them for him and the soap was bubbling out of them and making them foam. Jorge felt like a fool. Like a clown. He was mortified. He was just about to take them off and rub them in the dirt on the sidewalk to try to make them stop foaming when a car pulled up and a man got out and introduced himself to Jorge as his father. He asked Jorge what was going on with his sneakers and Jorge told him that he didn't know. That they had just strangely started foaming like that and his father looked at him and told him that shoes didn't normally do that. Jorge had wanted to tell him that he had only been trying to look good and clean for his dad but he didn't really know how to say that and so he just started crying out of shame.

And then what happened? I asked Jorge.

My father told me that he loved my shoes that way, that they were great, that he wanted a pair just like them, said Jorge. That made me feel a lot better. And then we went and had some shrimp cocktail. Afterwards he dropped me back off at the corner and I never saw him again.

Oh, I said. Where did he go?

I don't know, said Jorge. But I was sure it was because of my stupid shoes that he never came back. I realized that he had lied to me. Obviously he didn't want a pair of shoes that foamed up. Who would want that? So eventually I made this decision not to act like an idiot in life.

But you weren't trying to be a clown, I said. You just wanted to have clean shoes to meet your dad. Your mom had told you to.

I know, he said, maybe it's not rational. But after that I decided I would try to be a cooler boy and not try so hard for things.

I told Jorge that I was sorry about that but that I had to get back to Aggie and the boys.

I guess I'll never see you again either, he said. He was smiling. He told me it was nice meeting me and I said he could visit me in our field, maybe, beside the broken crop-duster that had crashed in it, and I gave him directions and told him to wait there later that evening.

Make sure you look sharp and behave yourself, I told him. But I didn't really say it correctly in Spanish so he didn't get the little joke which wasn't funny anyway and he just nodded and said he'd wait all night and all year if he had to. And I wasn't used to that kind of romantic speaking so I said no, it wouldn't take that long. I wanted to tell him that I had tried most of my life to do things that would make people stay too, and that none of them had worked out, but then I thought that if I said that our relationship would always be defined by failure.

Excerpted from Irma Voth by Miriam Toews. Copyright © 2011 by Miriam Toews. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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