Tuesday, February 9, 2016
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
Published by Counterpoint Press in October 2008
Source: Bought it. In 2009.
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 drove around town with him in the trunk, 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's 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.
Because NPR introduced me to it and because I found it in a clearance bin, I had to buy this book. Then I started this blog and free books started showing up in my mailbox and so many new books came to my attention. Books that were already on my bookshelves languished. Including this one. Then, on someone's blog, I saw Miriam Toews' name and remembered this book. Then, too, came #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks and I knew it was time to pull this one off the shelf.
The premises of the book isn't anything new - family member called in to care for children in need, family takes a road trip, quirky family members clash and come together - and Toews' precocious little girl came off a little too quirky and precocious for me sometimes.
But Toews also offers enough that's original and a depth that's sometimes lacking in these kinds of stories. Hattie isn't the family member who rushes in to save the day - she rushes in as much to escape her own situation as to help anyone and she is utterly clueless about what to do. The trip to go find the children's father? That's Hattie's out, because there's no way she's going to be the person left taking care of her niece and nephew. The kids? Not just quirky but seriously screwed up by a father who left them and a mother who spends most of her time out of touch with reality. The trio is just as likely to have really terrible things happen along their journey as they are to bond. In the end, Toews doesn't feel the need to tie everything up with a pretty little bow, not every problem is solved. Just the way I like a book to end, just as any real life story would.