All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Flying Troutmans, by Miriam Toews


In the Flying Troutmans, Hattie Troutman leaves behind a failing relationship in Paris to return to her family home in Canada to care for her mentally ill sister. Upon arrival, she discovers her sister's 15-year-old son Logan driving without a license and 11-year-old daughter Thebes with purple hair and a penchant for art projects (specifically, creating and awarding 'big checks'). Min, Hattie's sister, must be institutionalized, and Hattie is left with the two children. Unsure of what to do, she decides to take the children into the U.S. to find Doug Cherkis, their biological father, an itinerant artist.

Hattie faces a number of challenges. She reflects on her failed relationship and abrupt departure from France, feels the weight of her lifelong caregiver responsibility for Min, who has struggled with mental illness for many years, and she adapts to a surrogate parenting role for Logan and Thebes. The reader gets the sense that the children have been raising themselves, developing defenses against their mother's mental illness but still deeply loyal to her. Hattie has borne Min's illness the longest, and the reader feels her burden. By the end of the novel, there is some feeling of rescue for at least one of the children, but there is no long-term resolution.

Despite the theme of loss in this book, there are funny and bittersweet interactions with the children. Thebes talks almost nonstop, resists baths, and refuses to wear clean clothes. Logan is a poet and an avid basketball player, and in many other ways, a typical teenage boy, reluctant to share his feelings. In this passage on pages 126-127 between Hattie and Logan, she is attempting to find out how Logan feels about looking for his father:

Can I ask you a question? I said.

Yeah.

How do you feel about this whole, you know, odyssey?

Odyssey?

Like, this trip we're on. What are you thinking?

Um, I don't know, he said. Fine?

Okay, but are you saying that because you think that's what I want to hear?

Uh, sort of .. . . I guess . . . I don't know.

So you're sort of feeling fine and sort of feeling something other than fine?

Maybe.

And what is the thing other than fine that you're feeling?

I don't know.

Well, is it scared? Or nervous?

I don't know.

( . . . )

Can it be two words? he said.

Yes! It can be as many words as you want. Let's talk all night!

Okay, um, let's see, he said. Four words.

And they are . . .

Really, really, really angry, he said.

The Flying Troutmans is an easy and quick read. Interactions with the children have an accurate feel. Even if you don't always understand the actions the characters take, Toews' characters generate empathy.

The Flying Troutmans was published by Counterpoint Press in 2008. Information about Toews and a list of her books may be found at the Manitoba Author Publication website.

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