Sorrows is both terribly despairing yet at times humourous. Toews’ theme is how suicide affects a family. Quite timely as the Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a case on assisted suicide as I write this post. Newspapers print photos of elders picketing with signs reading “right to die”, and “death with dignity.” Sorrows is the story about two sisters: Yolandi, a moderately successful author of young adult novels and Elfrieda, a world-class concert pianist. Despite her success in all areas of her life Elf is so depressed she wants to die, so much so she slit her wrists and drank bleach. Yoli desperately wants her sister to live; she makes the mental hospital promise that they will not let Elf out with out contacting her first. But at the same time she considers taking her to Switzerland or Mexico so she could help Elf kill herself. In Switzerland assisted suicide is legal; in Mexico the meds are readily available. “Did Elf have a terminal illness?,” Yolandi wonders. “Was she cursed genetically from day one to want to die? Was every seemingly happy moment from her past, every smile, every song, every heartfelt hug and laugh and exuberant fist-pump and triumph, just a temporary detour from her innate longing for release and oblivion?”
When asked what was hot about playing the piano, Elf explained to Yoli how she structured he concerts: “She told me that the most important thing was to establish the tenderness right off the bat, or at least close to the top of the piece, just a hint of it, a whisper, but a deep whisper because the tension will mount, the excitement and drama will build – I was writing it down as fast as I could – and when the action rises the audience might remember the earlier moment of tenderness, and remembering will make them long to return to infancy, to safety, to pure love, then you might move away from that, put the violence and agony of life into every note, building, building still, until there is an important decision to make: return to tenderness, even briefly, glancingly, or continue on with the truth, the violence, the pain, the tragedy, to the very end.”
All of this mirror Toews own life. Her father and her sister committed suicide. How can we catch people before their depression ends in death?