Review: The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews

Sometimes I think my sense of humor is broken. Take something like The Royal Tenenbaums, which most everyone seems to think is hilarious with a capital H. (Query: When saying something is [adjective] with a capital [A], should [adjective] be capped, or does that make the “with a capital [A]” superfluous?) I saw The Royal Tenenbaums in high school or so, and it just made me feel sad. How is it funny? It’s not funny! It’s sad! Their lives are just sad!

So when I read a review of a dysfunctional-family book that claims it’s soooo funny, just a laugh a minute, I am always rather suspicious. In The Flying Troutmans, Hattie Troutman comes back from France, following a break-up with her pretentious boyfriend, to find her sister Min in a state of collapse. (Min has been suicidal, and very occasionally homicidal, ever since Hattie’s birth.) Unable to decide what to do about Min, Hattie takes Min’s two children, eleven-year-old Thebes and fifteen-year-old Logan, on a cross-country road trip to find the kids’ father, who skipped town years ago. No one is quite sure what’s going to happen when the father gets found.

Actually, The Flying Troutmans was funny. If it hadn’t done that cutesy/nauseating thing of ignoring the existence of quotation marks, I’d have been totally on board with the funny. See:

But, said Logan, a fifteen-year-old could technically live on his own, right?

Okay, bad times are gonna roll, I thought. Logan is planning to run away before we find Cherkis.

No, a fifteen-year-old cannot live on his own, I said.

Pippi Longstocking wasn’t even fifteen, said Thebes, and she–

Yeah, but she was a character in a book, I said.

And she was Swedish, said Logan.

So there would have been a solid safety net of social programs to help keep her afloat, I said. It doesn’t work here.

Heeheehee. I love Pippi Longstocking but, y’all, I desperately hate it when authors choose to eschew quotation marks. It is one of the most peevish of my pet peeves. Why would you ever not use them? Do you just not care that Jesus placed them on earth for our particular consumption? Do you sneer upon the value of correctly placed punctuation and its glorious organizational capacities? USE DAMN PUNCTUATION DAMMIT.

Damn punctuation aside, The Flying Troutmans was very funny. Logan and Thebes and Hattie were all intriguing and realistic characters, plainly fond of each other but not in a Lifetime Movie family snuggles way. That they weren’t constantly talking about their family bonds made it all the more touching when you caught a glimpse of their genuine affection for each other. I particularly loved Hattie’s conversations, or attempts at conversations, with Logan: perfect fifteen-year-old conversations.


(I know what you’re thinking. The punctuation thing was my BUT. Whatever, I can have two problems with the same book.)

BUT, I hate an unwarrantedly optimistic ending, and The Flying Troutmans has one. As I was reading the book, I kept thinking that I couldn’t imagine any way the book could end well. Hattie’s sister Min, the kids’  mother, has been trying to kill herself since Hattie was born, and when Hattie visits her in the hospital at the start of the book, Min asks Hattie to help her die. I couldn’t see it ending well, and yet it did. I resent this from Miriam Toews even as I wish to read more of her work.

(trapunto, don’t read this. I think it would piss you off.)

Did y’all see The Royal Tenenbaums? Did you think it was funny? Would you rather have a happy ending that’s not warranted, or an unhappy ending that pays out the issues the book has raised, but makes you feel all sad and empty inside?

Other reviews:

Tales of the Reading Room (thanks for the recommendation!)
Fleur Fisher in Her World
Literary License
Back to Books
The Writer’s Pet

Tell me if I missed yours!