THE FLYING TROUTMANS by Miriam Toews (Knopf Canada), 274 pages, $32 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Miriam Toews has found her footing. Not that she was exactly stumbling before delivering The Flying Troutmans. She did, after all, cop the Governor General's Award for A Complicated Kindness.
But Kindness didn't have this new book's cohesive narrative, and even sagged in the middle, the Mennonite hook losing its teeth as the novel went on.
Here, she's got a clear arc thanks to a road novel motif, and precisely delineated characters.
When Hattie gets an emergency call from her niece that Min, Hattie's sister, is suffering a particularly dark episode of schizophrenia, she rushes home from Paris, where she's just been dumped by her boyfriend.
Faced with her sister's emergency, Hattie deals with a welter of emotions: deep love for Min, fear (given some of the terrifying incidents in their past), anger at having to save the family yet again and panic over what to do with Min's children, 11-year-old Thebes and 15-year-old Logan, who, it looks like, may be foisted on her.
When Min's hospitalized, Hattie attempts to solve the problem by taking the kids on a road trip to find their father, whom Min threw out of the house a year earlier. Along the way, the relationships change and grow, helping Hattie make some life decisions.
Despite its disturbing themes of abandonment and madness, this book is often a real riot. Hattie thinks her way through things in unusual ways, all the while calling Paris to connect with her bummer of an ex.
But it's the kids who draw you in. Hoops freak Logan is hopelessly hormonal and terrified of making personal connections. Thebes loves her dictionary and won't change her clothes. She's a little hard to believe - even the most precocious kid doesn't have language this developed. But when a child is as entertaining as this, it doesn't matter.
Toews finds out if she's won the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize on November 17.