The Flying Troutmans
Miriam Toews' novel The Flying Troutmans is the story of a road trip. Hesitant Aunt Hattie Troutman (age 28) arrives home from Paris to help her niece Thebes (Theodora, age 11) and nephew Logan (age 15). The kids' mother Min, Hattie's older sister, is on the downswing of what appears to be an emotional cycling between manic creativity and suicidal depression which has been going on all Hattie's life. They bundle Min off to the psych ward. Hattie decides that she hasn't the skills to cope with the kids' problems with school, relationships, and the law. In desperation, she loads them into the van and heads out on a quest across America (South Dakota, Utah, Arizona, California) following leads about the whereabouts of their absent father Cherkis.
The three main characters in The Flying Troutmans are endearingly quirky; as a reader you don't want to abandon them. Thebes thrives within a sea of arts and crafts supplies; she is obsessed with words and provides running commentary from dictionaries and guidebooks. Logan, a cool silent teen, is preoccupied with basketball and driving, skills which allow him to practise maintaining control. Hattie can't let go of her Paris boyfriend who dumped her (twice) and, in a somewhat desperate attempt to meet another adult, accosts joggers, hitchhikers, stoners along the way. It is easy to empathize with her resistance to the caretaker role, her insecurities with being in loco parentis, torn between two needy youngsters, and her seeming inability to grow up herself.
This is a story about the challenges of living with a loved one who is mentally ill, about the distortions this condition creates in everyone within the patient's orbit, and about the necessity of both love and detachment if caregivers and dependents are to thrive themselves. Telephone calls, former addresses, kite strings, the lines painted on the highway are just some of the organic imagery reflecting themes of connection, boundaries, and control. Wonderful. With only one caution. The title refers to Logan's original phrase, The F'ing Troutmans.