Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

Flap copy from hardcover:
"Some families appear destined for catastrophe: meet the Troutmans. Hattie's boyfriend has just dumped her, her sister Min is back in the psych ward, and Min's kids, Logan and Thebes, are not talking and talking way too much, respectively.

Then there's the past, in which Min tried to kill Hattie once, and to kill herself a lot, in which Min threw the kids' father out of the house, in which Hattie dropped out of school, in which Logan and his friends kidnapped a friend and in which Thebes frequently impersonated their troubled mom in order to cut class.

So, when Hattie returns to take care of her niece and nephew, she's rapidly freaked out by the realization that the responsibility is in fact far greater than she'd expected- cute as it may be, for example, that Logan is infatuated with acerbic New York Times Magazine interviewer Deborah Solomon, and charming as Thebes' hip-hop vernacular is, she's in danger of becoming their surrogate parent. She decides to take the kids in the family van (think Little Miss Sunshine) to go find their father, last heard to be running an idiosyncratic art gallery in South Dakota.

What ensues is a remarkable journey across the United States, as aunt and kids - through chaos as diverse as their personalities - discover one another to be both far crazier and far more normal than any of them thought."

This book was by turns funny and moving and tragic. The quirky character traits the children exhibit definitely spark a smile, but it is a sad smile as you realize why they were forced to develop these defense mechanisms. None of the adults in the books act actually like adults (most of the time) which is truly unfair to these children. Hattie is certainly not prepared to act as a parent; in their own way, Thebes and Logan are the most grown-up characters in the story.

I thought that Min's mental illness was handled with sensitivity and accuracy, especially as it impacted the lives of those around her. I was also impressed with Hattie's character development as the novel progressed. This novel doesn't present any answers to the questions raised in the narrative- it is just a story of a family trying to cope the best way they can. Impressive and enjoyable read.

1 comment:

Sandra said...

I was debating about reading this for the Canadian Reading Challenge 3 but you've convinced me that I
should. Thanks for a great review. I haven't been by in a while-2 months of no blogging due to poor health but I'm back now, I hope.