Road tripping with the kids
My new favorite novel is The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews. Now, if I told you the story was about a woman named Hattie, who had just broken up with (been dumped by) her boyfriend in Paris and flown home to take care of the kids of her sister, Min, who needs to be institutionalized for something appearing to be bipolar disorder, and that Hattie decides-- sort of on the spur of the moment-- to take the kids on a cross country trip to try and find their long absent father, without really knowing where he was, you might think it was an uncomfortable read. It is at times. But it's so much more than that too. And it really is a fun read, with the occasional side trips into fear and despair. Road-tripping across country has always been a good device to examine characters up close, on an almost intimate level, and not always at their best. First there's Hattie who gets to reveal some of herself, sometimes in internal monologue, but often in conversation with the kids. Then there's 15-year-old Logan, well into the brooding teenage phase of growth who seems focused on developing his basketball skills and seems to be dancing on the edge of serious trouble. Finally, there's 11-year-old Thebes (occasionally know as Theodora), an absolute charmer of a character, with purple hair, and a flair for art and chatter that will make you want to take this child home with you. Min appears mostly in flashback, her gradual and recurring descent(s) into madness often recalled by Hattie, whose motivation to keep her sister's little family intact conflicts with her fear of being overwhelmed by the demands of being a "parent" to Logan and Thebes. The narration just speeds you along, revealing the characters as they are, as well as looking at Hattie and Min growing up and the various challenges Min faced in her somewhat irrevocable descent into despair. Parts of it are heartbreaking and bleak, others are uplifting and empowering and you can't help but hope everything turns out all right because these people are truly worth the effort. I have to confess, I've read through this book three times. Not something I usually do, but I kept picking it up and falling back into the story where these weird and troubling and hopeful characters tried to find a little bit of that "happily-ever-after" that really should be there for them. And the writing is that good. I don't usually quote at length from the books I review but I do want to end by giving you a taste of what I've been enjoying. On Thebes: "She couldn't get very far past that before it all erupted and she was sobbing in my arms and then all the captive little heifers in the barn next to us joined in, crying and lowing like a bovine choir of angels in solidarity with Thebes." On Logan: "He looked away, towards Saturn, or farther up, maybe towards some satellite that only he could see. I liked the silver and gold specks. They softened him up. He looked like a sweet, kind of gay, raver alien waiting for his crew to take him back to space, to some benevolent planet that partied hard but happily. I left him to pine and sparkle in the moonlight."