Miriam Toews The Flying Troutmans

ROFL (Reviewing Our Favourite Literature) is a blog series intended to help you get to know the mysterious faces behind the UBC English Students’ Association. All the execs will share their favourite book or author and this week we are introducing Sara. She is a second-year undergraduate student in the English Honours program and the social coordinator for the English Students’ Association.

“Yeah, so things have fallen apart.”

Of the many reasons to read Miriam Toews’s writing, her ability to create characters is the one that I usually quote as I try to cram The Flying Troutmans down the throats of anyone unfortunate enough to be in my vicinity. It is nearly impossible to get through a book by Toews without her characters following you around for days afterwards. But of all of Toews’s characters, I am drawn the most to the Troutmans’s eleven-year-old Thebes, fifteen-year-old Logan, their aunt Hattie, and their mother Min.

The Flying Troutmans is Toews’s fourth novel, published after the success of A Complicated Kindness. Although The Flying Troutmans did not receive the same level of public attention as her former novel, it remains my personal favourite. Initially situated in Manitoba, Logan, Thebes, and Hattie soon break out of their prairie neighbourhood and set out on an ill-conceived road trip in search of Thebes and Logan’s father. Min, who has chosen to cease all contact with her family, is left behind in the psychiatric ward of a local hospital.

Toews’s characters provide keen portrayals of individuals and families affected by mental illness. Although Min is rarely present in the action of the story, she exists in nearly every conversation between Logan, Thebes, and Hattie, pervading their thoughts. Thrust into the unfamiliar world of adult responsibilities, Hattie is unable to face a new situation without questioning how her big sister would have handled it. Throughout the narrative, she shifts between describing events that occur in the novel’s present and reminiscing about her childhood with Min. The audience eventually becomes faced with the dichotomy of two irreconcilable Mins: the before and the after. Toews imbues Min with an excess of humanness, and she cannot be dismissed by Toews’s audience.

Here’s a teaser from Miriam Toews’s The Flying Troutmans 

At that resort in Acapulco, before our father drowned, Min owned the place. She wore a string bikini made out of purple glass beads, army boots and a black Labatt toque over her long, blonde hair. She lounged around all day on the beach reading Quotations from Chairman Mao, The Anarchist Cookbook and Paradise Lost. She smoked beedies that she shoplifted from a store called Orientique. Sometimes she’d bury me in the sand. Sometimes we’d race in the water. Can you hold this for me? she’d say to anyone who was around. She’d stick her book and her beedies into her toque and hand it to them and then sashay like a supermodel across the sand and into the water to cool off. I would stand on the beach squinting into the sun and watch her and count the number of seconds she stayed underwater. One thousand. Two thousand. Three thousand…I knew that any number over thirty spelled disaster, and I’d sidle closer and closer to the water so I could be the one to rescue her.