Doubting Yourself To The Bone
September 30, 2006
DOUBTING YOURSELF TO THE BONE IS A STORY about the nature of grief, about what it means to be a parent in the face of great sorrow, the idea of re-invented love and hope. Set in Paris and a small town in the Canadian Rockies, the novel is propelled forward by a horrific car crash that reverberates for the victim's husband and daughters. Doubting Yourself to the Bone is a book about the pathology of grief.
From a scotch-swilling Tibetan monk to a titillating, imagined waif named Katya, whose uninvited visits are always intriguing, this story serpentines through the labyrinth of grief and pain as the victim's husband wrestles with the question, was the car crash an accident or intentional? It’s a bumpy and strange journey, peopled with a capricious mother, an aging alcoholic uncle, and five Buddhist monks in a broken van that leads its main character and the reader on the road to salvation.
What the critics are saying:
"This is the second novel from an Edmonton writer who is also a noted local poet and playwright. Trofimuk's first novel, The 52nd Poem, won the 2003 Alberta Book Awards' Georges Bugnet Novel of the Year, the City of Edmonton Book Prize and the Manuela Dias Book Design of the Year Award.
This new story plays out in Edmonton, Field, B.C. and Paris, and traverses difficult emotional territory with great beauty and delicacy. Perhaps more poets should be novelists, to show that a wrought sentence can shine much, much brighter than the heavy bricks other writers lay down in the name of fiction. Doubting Yourself to the Bone is a story of unresolved grief, about family, about big issues that are groundwork of great literature.
What sets Trofimuk's work apart is the unique grace with which he handles heavy human emotions, and the certain playfulness in narrative and image that buoys his work above weighty themes."
"Ronin, much like the protagonist in Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain, talks to imaginary characters, incorporates multiple points of view and invites us to delight in the oddities of life, like a busload of saffron-robed monks that land in Field, a nudist lesbian and an imagined waif named Katya.
When Gao received the Nobel Prize in 2000, Soul Mountain was celebrated as a novel that blended literary forms: poetry, fiction, drama and travel writing. It was described as "a novel of a pilgrimage made by the protagonist to himself and a journey along the reflective surface that divides fiction from life, imagination from memory." And so Trofimuk has carved out his own Soul Mountain for us, in Edmonton and Field, and found a reflective surface right in our own Canadian Rockies."
Globe & Mail
"In his first novel, The 52nd Poem, Thomas Trofimuk achieved the near impossible -- using the challenging second-person narrative to create a beautiful explication of love and loss. In his new novel, Doubting Yourself to the Bone, his subjects remain the same, but he has increased the perspective by adding the more conventional third person. And it works splendidly."
"Trofimuk is a master of feeling. For example, when Marie is born, Ronin's joy is articulated profoundly: "This daughter is a careful poem written in shadows on a white wall, early in the morning. Each breath is a stanza. He is in love." The endless matters of the heart shape this novel: romantic love, familial love, friendship, love of mountains and even a kind of tender spiritual love."
"The everyday detail that Trofimuk infuses into his fiction makes for a realistic portrayal of family life, friendship and regeneration. Even when characters veer toward the unusual, or even unlikely, Trofimuk achieves verisimilitude, and his flair with prose is luxurious."
"Trofimuk appears committed to the idea that emotions also have weight -- and that they are always in process. The word "ronin" means a samurai without a master. In this novel, Trofimuk suggests that we are all ronin, subject to our own hearts. Ronin never masters his feelings; he learns to live with them, and that, perhaps, is all we can do."
St. Albert Gazette
"Few Canadian love stories are woven together with the grace and eloquence of Thomas Trofimuk’s Doubting Yourself to the Bone.
The Edmonton-based writer centres his tale on Ronin, a happily married father of two daughters. Ronin’s life is splintered when his wife Moira informs him that she’s moving to Vancouver Island to find herself.
He flies to Paris and while he’s wrapped in a soul-saving love affair, Moira is killed in a car accident. Ronin spends the next two years dealing with anger, loneliness, doubt and insecurity.
Trofimuk writes in flashbacks, giving the story a sense of immediacy that resonates with painfully honest emotion. But what sets this 255-page love story apart is the poetic language that aptly expresses the soul-searing pain of its protagonist. The result is a graceful, effortless read from the birth of exhilarating love to its crushing demise."
"Some things can't be taught; they have to be learned," Trofimuk writes. When Ronin's estranged wife, Moira, kills herself by driving her car off a road, Ronin must learn to reshape his family and redefine what it means to be a father. The novel becomes a record of Ronin's grief, his anger, and the slow development of hope. This learning process puts Ronin in contact with a cast of remarkably giving characters, both real and imagined (Katya, one of the book's wisest, is an apparition, a figure from a myth that Moira used to tell). Trofimuk is not afraid to give his characters strong statements on love, on grief, and on truth. Georgia—Moira's lesbian lover and, later, a good friend to Ronin—observes, "I used to think a lie could become the truth simply because we wished it to be true, but that's bullshit." Trofimuk's novel is full of lessons told like this—deftly, and with an undeniable earnestness. The strength of Doubting Yourself to the Bone is Trofimuk's ability to make the reader learn through the characters, and take the lessons to heart when they come."
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"Relationships are at the heart of the novel. This is really a book about grief and loss, and trying to put yourself back together—and what relationships were, and how they change. And the voices in it are so very real, from Ronin to Moira. You can really understand her depression. You can really see where he’s trying to get back to her. It is lovely."
"...and with that poet's sensitivity—there are parts when Thomas writes, you read over and over again. It’s that delightful kind of writing—where you go, my gosh, it’s so beautiful!"
"This is Trofimuk’s second novel, and he isn’t afraid to raise big questions–about tragedy, grief, love, memory–without attempting to really answer any of them. It’s a novel about unknowing, about our endless attempt to make sense of lives lived and lives ended."
"Ronin notices details–unusual, wonderful details–in his surroundings. He sees the world in signs, and is always asking what those signs mean. Like the sapphire blue budgie bird that appears underneath a tree outside the Cafe Demitasse in Edmonton. Like the lone raven that watches him chop wood outside his home. Trofimuk nudges his readers into a new state of awake–a state of heightened receptivity and curiosity towards the remarkable–but often overlooked–details of our own surroundings."
"...Trofimuk has composed a novel that’s weighty and simple at the same time. Ronin's questions are deep, complex. They "form a beautiful labyrinth," and eventually he's able to start looking at life–and death–in a different way. In a way that knows some questions need not have answers."
Quill And Quire
"Doubting Yourself to the Bone, Thomas Trofimuk’s second novel (after his award-winning The 52nd Poem), follows main character Ronin Bruce through an eventful two years. Ronin is surprised when his partner, Moira, tells him she’s not happy and subsequently leaves him, taking their daughters with her. Rather than fret, Ronin goes on his own search for happiness in Paris.
While in Paris, Ronin begins an affair, then learns Moira has died in a car wreck and returns to care for his girls. What follows is a touching story of a widower piecing his life back together. Ronin struggles to accept Moira’s death, his guilt over not preventing it, and his guilt about his affair. Trofimuk throws a lot into his book – the doubt over the exact circumstances of the car crash, Ronin’s relationship with his ailing father, his move to a new town – and at times, some of the storylines appear momentarily forgotten, but the writer manages to create an overall balance that makes the story both emotionally rewarding and entertaining."