The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
Counterpoint, Berkeley & New York, 2009
The Flying Troutmans is a harrowing story with a light touch, about love and family and mental illness.
Hattie returns from a busted romance in Paris to rescue her sister’s kids as Mim has what might be her final breakdown. Toews deals with mental illness in a way that comes off as funny but also a bit hysterical, like drinking too much coffee and getting the shakes. Anyone who has ever dealt with these issues knows the feeling but I’m not sure what I think about this, if it is too gimmicky. Who is out of control here and why? And yet parts of this novel are heart wrenchingly beautiful:
When she got home our mother slept with her at night, in Mim’s bed, and sometimes I’d curl up at their feet or on the floor in front of her door so she wouldn’t run away. When she was well enough to leave the house I’d follow her. She’d walk for miles sometimes, never stopping at a friend’s place or a store or a park or anything at all, just walking, quickly, and staring at her feet or off into the middle distance. Page 143
The novel is about a road trip. After Hattie takes Mim to the hospital she decides to take the kids, fifteen-year-old Logan and eleven-year-old Thebes, to find their father somewhere in South Dakota. They have a vague sense of where he might be, enough cash to last a while and a wild sense of freedom. Toews’ strength lies in her deft hand with dialogue:
Can I ask you a question? I said
How do you feel about this whole, you know, odyssey?
Like, this trip we’re on. What are you thinking?
Um, I don’t know, He said. Fine?
Okay, but are you just saying that because you think that’s what I want to hear?
Uh, sort of…I guess…I don’t know.
So your sort of feeling fine and sort of feeling something other than fine?
And what’s the thing other than fine that you’re feeling?
I don’t know.
Well, is it scared? Or nervous?
I don’t know. Page126-127.
Brilliant, anyone who has ever tried to talk to a fifteen year old about how they’re feeling will recognize this exchange, or lack of exchange. The road trip is a wild one, very funny in parts, it reminds me of a darker version of Little Miss Sunshine. Toews really has an understanding of mania and depression and is a fine writer.
I liked this book but can’t say I loved it. Somehow I keep thinking I’ve been tricked. I do intend to give this author another try and read A Complicated Kindness.