Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Flying Troutmans--Miriam Toews

I loved this darkly funny road novel by Canadian writer Miriam Toews. I think that if you liked Little Miss Sunshine, you'll like this book--it has a lot of the same feel to it in the low-key tragicomic tone, and deals primarily with how family members cling to each other in the wake of mental illness and chaos.

Hattie Troutman has come back from Paris to take care of her niece and nephew and put her sister Min back in the hospital for the umpteenth time. Min has 30 years or so of crazy under her belt--she's tried to kill herself numerous times, Hattie at least once, and was inadvertently responsible for their dad's death. Hattie fled to Paris, just tired of it all and needing a break. She's the last of the family able to assume responsibility for Min and her kids, 15 year old Logan and 11 year old Thebes. After checking Min into the hospital, Hattie surveys the wreckage and decides that the best thing to do is go off looking for the kids' long-gone dad, Cherkis, who was last heard to be in South Dakota. After all, Logan's been expelled from school and alienated the neighbors by throwing hatchets, and Thebes is decidedly more manic than before, and there's nothing keeping them in Manitoba, is there?

So off they go in the family van, confounding American border agents, hustling on local basketball courts, squabbling, and trying to reach Cherkis before the van breaks down irreparably. Meanwhile, Hattie reflects on her history with her sister and gets to know her niece and nephew. The charm of this book is in the characters--Thebes is a wildly charming creation, with her novelty checks and homemade gift certificates, but all the characters are nicely layered.

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