I enjoyed this novel with its quirky sense of humour and unique characters and don't think I've read anything quite like it. The story was simple and often sad, yet the characters were rich with history and flaws which kept this story alive and the children leapt off the page as if they were real.
It was a satisfying tale of the bond of family ties and it was the relationship between an aunt and her niece and nephew that kept me fascinated. My niece turned eight months old while I was reading this tale and I could relate to Hattie's return to help her sister and her kids as I'm pretty sure there is nothing I wouldn't do for my little niece or my brother and fabulous sister in law.
My Review Partner's point about an epilogue is interesting. On the one hand, I would have liked to know what happened sometime down the road in their lives, but on the other hand, I like to have my own ideas of what their future held. I guess it depends on your preference, whether you will be satisfied with the ending, but it definitely doesn't all wrap up quite so neatly which is par for the entire novel.
Overall, if you want a quirky, Canadian read, this one fits the bill!
Reason for Reading: The publisher's plot synopsis grabbed me right away.
Summary: Hattie in Paris, who has just been dumped by her boyfriend, receives an urgent message from her niece in Manitoba to come home quickly. Hattie's sister Min is in a deep depression and needs to go into the hospital again and when Hattie arrives she finds the kids in a state. Teenage Logan retreats into his hoodie all the time, rarely speaks and the neighbors have a backyard full of hatchets. Thebes, on the other hand, does not stop talking, ever, and looks as if she hasn't changed clothes in a few weeks nor combed, let alone washed her hair in months. Hattie is totally not up to the job of looking after two children so she takes the children in the van on a road trip to the States to find their father whom Min chased out of their lives when they Logan was a toddler and Thebes newly born. With only the name of a place of where he was ten years ago they set off.
Comments: What a wonderful, brilliant book! A humourous, heart-felt, sometimes poignant story of a family of the most quirky characters. This family is both dysfunctional and each member is suffering their own mental health problems but they are also lovable, unique and become accepted to the reader just the way they are. The only character I didn't connect with nor grow to like was Hattie, who was quite negligent with looking after the children and as a 32yo woman had no excuse for her behaviour except that she daydreamed about her ex-boyfriend back in Paris and hadn't looked after children before. I didn't buy it. However, the children and Min (who we get to know through Hattie's memories) were extremely outlandish yet totally believable characters.
A great story that will have you chuckling, shaking your head and growing fonder of these two children the more you read. I really enjoyed this, my first foray into Toews, and I will be looking into her other work hoping to find the same quality of story. The book vaguely reminded me of the movie "Little Miss Sunshine" and I pictured Logan just as the teenage son in that movie. If you enjoy an offbeat story populated with eccentric characters this book will certainly fit the bill.
on October 4, 2009
This book is, in its own way, a stellar accomplishment. At the same time, not everyone will like it, not everyone will 'get' it. But man...what a ride.
It's economical. Spare. And maybe, just maybe, because of the core subject -depression- this was the perfect tack to take, rather than getting bogged down in narrative that provides more in its depth, but that depth ends up detracting from the power of this core.
Normally, I don't touch on 'what the story's about' in my reviews. Here, I'm going to make an exception. To a small extent. 'Troutmans' is a road trip. A road trip as told by a fractured, vulnerable, flawed narrator...whose own profile does not impact negatively on the story...something I consistently harp on about these days. Along with Hattie, there's Thebes, her 11 year old niece, and Logan, her 15 year old nephew. Both are, to most observers, intellectually heightened to the extreme...and maybe this is part of what would put off some readers. (I'll get to the major element of this effect in a moment.)
These two kids are so fantastically presented- Look; I'm a writer, I pride myself on being great with dialogue...but what Ms Toews comes up with repeatedly, what she lavishes on us by way of these two characters is... Well, at times, not only was I laughing, but I was almost applauding. The voices -for those who can hear them- are authentic to the point of being painfully so. In fact, my basic litmus test for any novel (and I'll confess here that I know this reveals a major prejudice of mine, so go ahead; sue me. But then, I am also a screenwriter...) is whether I'm compelled to see the tale in my head, as a film. Better yet, would I *want* to see it as a film, on the screen. In this case, absolutely, positively, beyond any shadow of a doubt. It might just be the ultimate 'indie film', pushing aside such beloved gems as 'Lost in Translation', 'Little Miss Sunshine' and 'Sideways'. I may have felt very, very uncomfortable with some of what unfolds, what's said, what's done...even moreso when deconstructing the family history, figuring out just how they got to be the people they are...but I was affected by what Ms Toews wrote, and really, is there any greater goal, than to effect your readers, to get them to a different place, add to their experiences in a rich way?
As I said, the core subject is depression, and this is what many people simply wouldn't like about 'The Flying Troutmans'. Its discussion, even as pithily presented by the author, brings with it a suitable weight. And tonal impact. People don't feel comfortable talking about 'everyday depression', never mind the kind that's held someone in its grips their entire life, kept them on the abyss of suicide for nearly the duration. (It's familiar territory for me, having been a self-diagnosed 'functional, cyclical depressive' for more than three decades.) Min, the mother of Logan and Thebes, sister to Hattie, the patient in this story, is the lynchpin of 'Troutmans', but her situation is handled with a true deftness-of-touch, a near-perfect consideration by Ms Toews, not only in references in the present tense, but also in flashbacks. Your heart breaks for her, putting the pieces together, but I never felt that this element was overdone, never turning either mawkish or maudlin. But then, it's not what the book's about; the road trip is what the book's about.
'The Flying Troutmans' is a gem. Written by a novelist who took a particular tack to tell a particular story a particular way, it's a distinct tale in a world where just about everything's been heard before. And of course now I'm going to be investigating the rest of Ms Toew's oeuvre.
(Personal rating: 9/10)
on July 31, 2009
It took me a while to finish Mariam Toews' last book "A Complicated Kindness", yet it is a book beautifully written with humors of unspoken sadness. As soon as i finished the book, i was expecting Toews' next book. Her extraordinary way to tell stories not only paints the image of her characters layer by layer, she also draws the relationship between her characters with detail, and take readers to experience a undescribable loneliness of each and all of her characters'. "the Flying Troutmans" is not about people making any specific accomplishment in life under social expectation. It is about searching for faith when one doesn't. It is not a book for everybody. It is a book for those who are willing to experience life spontaneously. It's a book that opens windows for readers to jump out the boredom of routine in life, into the unknown, onto the road trip to fly with the Troutmans.
I enjoy Mariam Toews.
on July 11, 2009
The Flying Troutmans was a huge disappointment. I absolutely loved A Complicated Kindness, and was looking forward to The Flying Troutmans, expecting to find more of the same rich prose and real-life characters. This latest offering from Toews, however, was a flat, lifeless mess. The characters in this novel were contrived, the dialog unbelievable, and the narrative rambling. The whole pointless pursuit was a journey to nowhere.