This is the fifth book by Miriam Toews that I’ve read, and the fourth I’ve reviewed on this blog. Because of the theme and motivation of my blog, I only review mental/neurobiological illness related stuff.
The Flying Troutmans is the sort-of-sequel to A Complicated Kindness. The narrator is Hattie Troutman, who goes home to Canada to look after her sister, Min and her two kids, Logan and Thebes. Min is taken to a psych ward and we see very little of her for the rest of the book.
All her life Min had been surrounded by pills and sometimes she took them and sometimes she didn’t and sometimes she took way too many of them.
We know she is psychotic and we know she is suicidal, but that’s as far as the diagnosis goes. Her children have had to mature fast and take care of their mother.
Bright, precocious and completely averse to washing, Thebes is an absolute delight, and a good contrast to her moody but likeable 15 year old brother.
She talked about her friends. We’re all mostly white nerds, she said, with minor physical and emotional flaws that do not require medication but do brand us as losers in the bigger picture.
With Min out of the picture most of the time, the narrative centres on what impact her instability has had on those around her. Hattie is an old hand at it and worn out by it.
How do you love someone who wants to be left alone to die? How do you stay? How do you walk away?
After Min tells Hattie she doesn’t want contact with her or the children, she decides to distract them by fabricating a mission to locate their father in the USA. All three of them try desperately to be strong for each other, and of course all three of them are fragile.
Thebes, I said, are you okay? Why aren’t you talking?
I don’t know, she said. I think I might be depressed.
Logan and I both whipped our heads around to look at her and the van veered towards the dotted line. Nobody gets away with using the D word in our family without a team of trauma experts, a squad of navy SEALs, Green Berets and a HazMat crew appearing instantaneously in the midst.
The roadtrip takes them on a metaphysical journey too, as roadtrips should – and the plot unwinds with the winding road.
I liked it a whole lot. From the start, it reminded me a bit of Catcher in the Rye and a smaller bit of John Green’s Looking for Alaska. Despite those comparisons, the book holds its own with ease. Echoing her own life, which you can read about in Swing Low: a life, Toews’ recurring themes keep recurring in distinct and interesting ways, as if she’s working stuff out. Sisters, suicide and mental illness are the three that feature most strongly in The Flying Troutmans and as usual, the story proceeds with gritty reality, grace, heart and intelligence. Again, I can recommend her book with less than no hesitation.
The other books I’ve read are:
All My Puny Sorrows
A Complicated Kindness
Swing Low (a biography of her bipolar father, who committed suicide.)