The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews


When Hattie gets a frantic phone call from her eleven year old niece, Thebes, to “come quick”, Hattie leaves her life in Paris and flies home to Manitoba.

Min was stranded in her bed, hooked on the blue torpedoes and convinced that a million silver cars were closing in on her (I didn’t know what Thebes meant either), Logan was in trouble at school, something about the disturbing stories he was writing, Thebes was pretending to be Min on the phone with his principal, the house was crumbling around them, the black screen door had blown off in the wind, a family of aggressive mice was living behind the piano, the neighbours were pissed off because of hatchets being thrown into their yard at night (again, confusing, something to do with Logan) … basically, things were out of control. And Thebes is only eleven.
Thebes’s mother, Min, is Hattie’s older sister. Theirs is a complicated relationship fraught with sibling rivalry, of course, but also touched by Min’s mental illness. Their parents are almost non-existent in this story: we learn only of their father’s tragic death.  Still, Hattie loves her niece and nephew- even though she hasn’t seen them in quite a while and even if she seems ill-equipped to care for them.

What she decides to do is take them on a road trip to find their father- who has been out of the picture for several years. Hattie remembers him fondly and thinks he’d be the perfect person to care for the kids while their mother recovers in hospital.

What follows is a road trip quite unlike any other as the Troutmans travel first south and then across country to California.

These are damaged people:  fragile and angry and resilient. As they make their way closer to the kids’ Dad, they form a bond built on trust and love. They’re kooky, no question, but they’re most definitely family.

I read Toews’ novel A Complicated Kindness a couple years ago- and really enjoyed it. I liked this even better. It was laugh-out-loud funny and the ending was full of hope and these characters, particularly Thebes, were some of the most enchanting (albeit nutty) people I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with in recent memory.

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