three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
38-Jan-Feb-2009
By: 
Miriam Toews
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-The Flying TroutmansIn her fourth novel, Miriam Toews (rhymes with "caves"), widely considered one of Canada’s best writers though still relatively unknown in the United States, follows a quirky "ad hoc family" on the road trip of a lifetime.

The Story: An artist living in Paris, 28-year-old Hattie Troutman receives a frantic call from her niece Thebes, who claims that her mother, Hattie’s older sister Min, is sick. Hattie rushes home to Manitoba to find the situation worse than she had expected: Min has had a psychotic breakdown and must be hospitalized immediately. Refusing to turn her eccentric 11-year-old niece and 15-year-old nephew Logan over to foster care, Hattie hatches a plan to locate the children’s father, whose last known address was Murdo, South Dakota. Following the trail of clues, the oddball trio zigzags through the Western United States in a dilapidated van, getting to know each other—and themselves—in the process.
Counterpoint. 275 pages. $24. ISBN: 1582434395

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"The only acrobatics are those of the nimble author who, with great style and a pitch-perfect ear for teen slang and contemporary pop culture, strides boldly out across the tightrope, with no safety net below, just the abyss of absurdity and the chasm of slapstick, into which she never falls. … She has a cinematic eye for scenes and a fine director’s ability to make people fully three-dimensional, believable and unforgettable." Donald Harington

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"She uses the rickety van as a venue for her characters to engage in hilarious dialogue that sometimes veers into the heartbreaking. … Toews also has an uncanny ability to write in a playful and ironic way, while maintaining a sweet (and sometimes lovably sappy) tone." Kevin Sampsell

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Yes, the road trip storyline is a little tread-worn, but Toews has created such an engaging cast for this 2,000-mile trek that you’ll never be tempted to ask, ‘Are we there yet?’ Most of the novel’s success stems from the fact that Min’s two witty children are irresistible characters, alternately vulnerable, affectionate, terrified, brave and annoying." Ron Charles

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s not a new formula as stories go: Estranged woman returns to family fold to help in time of need, learns she can cope, falls in love with family again. But that’s about as formulaic as The Flying Troutmans gets. Ms. Toews delivers the story of the Troutmans’ journey from America’s northern border to its southern one in search of the children’s father with a fresh voice and liberal doses of humor." Beatriz Terrazas

Rocky Mountain News 3 of 5 Stars
"This is a delicate story of fragile lives told with grace and warmth. Despite lingering questions, readers will care about this family and each member’s individual angst and strengths." Cathie Beck

Seattle Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s fairly obvious and a mite too predictable, though, that by the end of a colorful Little Miss Sunshine-esque road trip, Hattie will have bonded with her charges far more than she expected— and matured a bit herself, en route. … But what is more contrived and forced in The Flying Troutmans is the relentless, whimsical eccentricity of the kids." Misha Berson

NY Times Book Review 1 of 5 Stars
"Toews’s penchant for summarized dialogue becomes tedious and distancing, turning scenes into virtual digests, and her inability, or unwillingness, to describe or contextualize—or even to gaze long upon—the passing countryside, is a real handicap when you’re writing a road novel. … Nothing about The Flying Troutmans feels authentic, not the characters and not their psychology, and certainly not the American landscape they blast through, leaving dust in the slipstream, but very little else." Tom De Haven

Critical Summary

By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Miriam Toews’s new novel explores what it means to be a family in the wake of adversity. Described as "a genius at recording the everyday weirdness of young people" (Washington Post), Toews creates memorable, quirky characters whose dialogue ripples with sharp insight, deadpan irony, and pop culture references. A few critics had serious complaints about the screwball humor (contrived), the plot (predictable), and the characters (improbable and affected); the reviewer from the New York Times Book Review also pronounced Toews’s slang-filled narrative "sloppy and gabbling, like a blog hastily banged out." Though The Flying Troutmans may not be her best book, its optimism and thoughtful treatment of family dysfunction will entertain readers who can overlook its imperfections.