Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

Min was stranded in her bed, hooked on the blue torpedoes and convinced that a million silver cars were closing in on her (I didn’t know what Thebes meant either), Logan was in trouble at school, something about the disturbing stories he was writing, Thebes was pretending to be Min on the phone with his principal, the house was crumbling around them, the black screen door had blown off in the wind, a family of aggressive mice was living behind the piano, the neighbours were pissed off because of hatchets being thrown into their yard at night (again, confusing, something to do with Logan) … basically, things were out of control. And Thebes is only eleven.”–from The Flying Troutmans

Days after being dumped by her boyfriend Marc in Paris–“he was heading off to an ashram and said we could communicate telepathically”–Hattie hears her sister Min has been checked into a psychiatric hospital, and finds herself flying back to Winnipeg to take care of Thebes and Logan, her niece and nephew. Not knowing what else to do, she loads the kids, a cooler, and a pile of CDs into their van and they set out on a road trip in search of the children’s long-lost father, Cherkis.

In part because no one has any good idea where Cherkis is, the traveling maters more than the destination. On their wayward, eventful journey down to North Dakota and beyond, the Troutmans stay at scary motels, meet helpful hippies, and try to ignore the threatening noises coming from under the hood of their van. Eleven-year-old Thebes spends her time making huge novelty cheques with arts and crafts supplies in the back, and won’t wash, no matter how wild and matted her purple hair gets; she forgot to pack any clothes. Four years older, Logan carves phrases like “Fear Yourself” into the dashboard, and repeatedly disappears in the middle of the night to play basketball; he’s in love, he says, with New York Times columnist Deborah Solomon. Meanwhile, Min can’t be reached at the hospital, and, more than once, Hattie calls Marc in tears.

But though it might seem like an escape from crisis into chaos, this journey is also desperately necessary, a chance for an accidental family to accept, understand or at least find their way through overwhelming times. From interwoven memories and scenes from the past, we learn much more about them: how Min got so sick, why Cherkis left home, why Hattie went to Paris, and what made Thebes and Logan who they are today.

In this completely captivating book, Miriam Toews has created some of the most engaging characters in Canadian literature: Hattie, Logan and Thebes are bewildered, hopeful, angry, and most of all, absolutely alive. Full of richly skewed, richly funny detail, The Flying Troutmans is a uniquely affecting novel.
I first heard of Miriam Toews back in 2004 when her novel A Complicated Kindness won the Governor General's Award. Sometimes I pay a lot of attention to award-winning books, while other times I do not. For whatever reason, I decided to pick that book up and I read it at some point and time. I am pretty sure it was that year, so it was before blogging. Now, while I am sure it was a good book, it was not a great book... Why, you might ask? Because without going to look at a book description, I would not for the life of me be able to tell you what happened in that book. Last year, I read Swing Low: A Life by Toews and apparently did not review it. That's annoying! Anyway, I remember that book much better than A Complicated Kindness and it hardly received any media attention at all.

So, fast-forward to this year when her new book came out. I was not super-excited about it, but at the same time, I decided to give her another try. I come away from the experience thinking 'meh'. It wasn't a fantastic book, but it also was not a terrible book, either. I really liked the characters, but I felt like I never really got close to them. They could've all died and I would've just sort of shrugged and moved on. Which is a shame because the characters are colourful and I wanted to really like them, but it was like there was a wall between me and them. So, while the characters were alive to me, they just did not capture my interest and pull me in.

To summarize my rambles. While I didn't love this book, I also didn't hate it. I just can't seem to do these plodding family drama-type novels anymore. I also notice that Toews is not on the Giller long-list this year, so I am not the only one that thinks what could've been a promising novel just did not capture her audience...

This is a read for the Second Canadian Challenge, Eh? My thanks to Random House for this book! Even though I didn't love it, I am still glad I read it. It also has an awesome title...


  1. I am really looking forward to reading this book! I really liked A Complicated Kindness.

    Thanks for the review.

  2. It was an interesting book! I hope you enjoy it.


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