The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

158243439501_sx140_sy225_sclzzzzzzz_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

Yeah.

How do you feel about this whole, you know, odyssey?

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?

Maybe.

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.

Other reviews:

Both Eyes Book Blog

Literary License

Peeking Between the Pages

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8 Comments

Filed under Review

8 responses to “The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

  1. A fellow blogger at Three Dog Book Blog loved this book. She brings it up now and again, with love in her bloggy voice. So when I saw that you were going to review it, I got interested in hearing what you had to say. It sounds fascinating on many fronts…sometimes the best way to address such issues is with a little humor, huh?

  2. You know.. how you described your feelings for this book was exactly how I felt with A Complicated Kindness. I thought it was good and parts of it were precious, but (and that’s a big BUT).. there was something lacking somehow, why I can’t love it completely. I’m still iffy on if I want to read Troutmans. I’ll go back to your review later and think about it.

  3. I want to read this, I enjoy novels that deal with characters with mental or emotional illness. An Audience of Chairs by Joan Clark is the best thing I’ve read with this theme recently, as well as Tomato Girl by Jayne Pupek of course. I got a copy of A Complicated Kindness from Bookmooch recently and will probably start with that until I find a copy of this one. Thanks for your thoughts on this book.

  4. Little Miss Sunshine! Even with the flaws, I’m sold. And that exchange is indeed perfect.

  5. Thanks for linking my review. I’m going to add yours to mine also. This book was a strange one for me. I just thought it focused too much on this road trip and some of it seemed kind of out there. I would have liked to learn more about the sisters. I have been thinking about trying A Complicated Kindness but haven’t yet.

  6. Sandy – I agree that humor is very useful when writing about certain issues. If you read Troutmans I’d love to know what you think of it.

    Claire – I am going to try A Complicated Kindness at some point. Maybe Toews’ style just doesn’t click with some folks. I’d like to hear more of you thoughts about it.

    Nymeth – I’d love to know what you think of The Flying Troutmans when you read it.

    Darlene – You are welcome, Troutmans was strange for me, too. I guess I’m still trying to figure out what I really think about it.

  7. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: April 18, 2009 at Semicolon

  8. Pingback: Review: The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews « Jenny's Books

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