Book Review: The Flying Troutmans

Thebes was loading the stuff into the van and Logan was picking and rolling around the parking lot with his basketball, periodically banging it off stuff like the van and the window at the front desk. The woman inside banged back and then came and told us to clear on outta there. There was a large black oil slick under the van.

Shotgun, said Thebes.

Already dibsed it, said Logan.

I hate you, said Thebes.

We were back on the road.

Miriam Toews: The Flying Troutmans (86)

My friend Jo McClelland recommended this book to me knowing that aside some fun books that I use for distraction and escape I do also like to read more literary work with strong characters and wonderful plot. Miriam Toews‘ book The Flying Troutmans made me a little apprehensive with its glowing reviews from The Globe and Mail and its Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize stamp on the cover. A brief thumb through and I admit I felt an immediate dislike and distrust for her formatting, so I put it on the shelf for a few months. It amazes me that a lack of quotation marks and distinguishing between characters speaking in paragraphs actually made me not want to read it, but that’s the case. Its also about a family struggling to deal with one member’s mental health issues, and having done an architectural thesis on Supportive Housing for Mental Health, I wasn’t sure I was ready to deal with that topic again. The reason I picked up the book to read again was because I have to return it to JM when I see her in two weeks on my vacation.

I was pleasantly surprised by the book. Mental health and its affects on family members is a difficult topic to deal with, and often dealt with poorly. Often there is great tragedy involved, good examples being Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much is True and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Both novels are fantastic with wonderful characters, but none of them seem to break the tension of a mental health breakdown with realistic laughable dialogue the way Miriam Toews does. She weaves stories of the past within the journey the kids and their aunt make to find their father, and all the reactions are heartfelt and real. I believed the characters completely, even Thebes’ oddness was perfectly defined.

The only downside I felt in reading The Flying Troutmans, was that the ending felt far too quick. Without giving away anything, the decision to travel to find Thebes and Logan’s Father took longer than the end of the journey itself. While reactions to mental health issues were dead on, reactions to discovering information about their father seemed unrealistic and quick. The ending felt abrupt and unresolved, though I suspect the point of the story was the journey itself.

I recommend the book just for the language and style. It breaks patterns in the best way, and it freed me of my preconceived notions on what writing looks like. If you’re dealing with a family member or friend with mental health, it deals with it as a crisis in a very realistic way. Pick up the book, its a worthwhile read, and deserving of its acclaim.

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