jo's Reviews > The Flying Troutmans

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
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Feb 27, 12

bookshelves: canadian, mama-is-crazy, kids, psychic-pain, blew-my-mind
Recommended to jo by: Jennifer (aka EM)
Read from February 22 to 24, 2012

i have this gr friend i won’t say their name and they read this book and told me jo you should read it it’s sort of like Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones which if you don’t remember is the 2011 national book award winner and describes a poor rural black family before and during hurricane katrina

as you can imagine i was intrigued on account of what can this little canadian romp of a book possibly have in common with salvage the bones which is dead serious and sultry and racked with tragedy and so sticky hot you want to take a shower after reading each chunk what can these two books possibly have in common

and the answer the short answer is nothing

the long answer can get pretty long on account of ink, paper, library of congress headings, title page, page numbers, you get the idea

but this here book this here slim book is a thing of beauty even though it’s not a thing of beauty in the way in which salvage the bones is a thing of beauty which it is and the reason is that it’s one of those book they are a genre really that give you the pain of kids with tons of humor and quirkiness but it’s still a lot of pain and it could be really sad but what makes it less sad and maybe not even sad at all is that it allows you to contain it you feel you are making a difference you are there reading the book and the kids are not alone because you are there and you are getting it and as long as you are there loving the kids they will be okay

now the first and forever best in this genre is The Catcher in the Rye and another masterpiece in this genre is Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You and i must say that unlike in these two previous books in this here flying troutmans book there actually is an adult who cares and is there just like you are seeing and hearing and getting the kids’ pain the problem being however that this adult is also a bit fucked up so you are needed too which feels good because you are there and you care consequently everyone will be okay

now the thing about this book is that like those other two i mentioned it’s very funny but unlike the other two i mentioned is really really fast well let me qualify it has parts that are really fast and those are the parts that have to do with little 11-year-old thebes a character that easily rivals holden caulfield as the best kid character ever to appear in the history of quirky kid character literature but then there are parts in which the focus is on the other kid her brother logan and those parts slow the book way down like you had your car in fifth gear and you forced it into third gear

there’s a loud RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR and the car slows way down

and i could totally talk about what the story is about and how the pain of the kids is described and all that and i also could talk about how unrealistic this story is how it doesn’t make sense at all but this would be boring and what i really want to say is that Miriam Toews' prose is nothing short of virtuosic and this little deceptively simple book could not have been written by anyone other than a genius writer and i also want to say if you decide to read it give it a minute get in the groove and then let yourself be delighted by how amazing the writing is and how big the heart producing it is and thank you miriam toews for having given me a good sane ride along with people who love each other because to tell you the truth i kind of needed it
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Reading Progress

02/22/2012 "should i read this book slowly? if i read it fast, am i gonna miss lots of subtle things? please advise." 12 comments
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Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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Jennifer (aka EM) ow wowowowowowowowowowowowowowow. YES YES YES. We wrote our reviews the same way - breathless and long run on sentences because that's this book. And what you say: "so you are needed too which feels good because you are there and you care consequently everyone will be okay". OMG Yes. Ok, I have to go get a cup of tea and re-read, and then I will tell you why it is EXACTLY like Salvage the Bones. Ok, not exactly. But a lot.


Jennifer (aka EM) And let's talk here, ok?


message 3: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo oh, okay, i talked there a little bit already. just a little bit.


message 4: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo the thing is that now i'm really really tired so can we maybe talk later? we can talk for a long time, can't we? :)


message 5: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Feb 25, 2012 09:45AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jennifer (aka EM) ok - I'm back. Wow, jo ... I'm blown away by this, and what I love about your review is that you focused on the kids' pain - and how it could have been dreadfully sad (in fact, when I read it, I was thinking of you so much, and I truly didn't know if it would be too sad for you, too pain-filled) but wasn't, because it was also full of humour and hope.

I also think you NAILED character. I had asked you about Logan, and I'm totally blown away by your shifting down description of his energy and presence in the novel. Dead on.

I have to re-read Catcher in the Rye. I wouldn't have made that connection; I made the STB connection instead. But first, I'll wait for the next response from you before I say more about that.


Jennifer (aka EM) (oh, and we can talk on both threads, i don't mean to be dogmatic!!!)


Emilie but this here book this here slim book is a thing of beauty even though it’s not a thing of beauty in the way in which salvage the bones is a thing of beauty which it is and the reason is that it’s one of those book they are a genre really that gives you the pain of kids with tons of humor and quirkiness but it’s still a lot of pain and it could be really sad but what makes it less sad and maybe not even sad at all is that it allows you to contain it you feel you are making a difference you are there reading the book and the kids are not alone because you are there and you are getting it and as long as you are there loving the kids they will be okay

i love this part the most. i want that feeling. and it seems like maybe you caught this quality that makes this kind of book about intense pain bearable and it makes me want to think more about this idea. your writing is beautiful.


Jennifer (aka EM) jo wrote: "the thing is that now i'm really really tired so can we maybe talk later? we can talk for a long time, can't we? :)"

yes and yes. and me too. Plus I have to go prepare for a very important meeting tomorrow. ;-)


Jennifer (aka EM) Emilie wrote: "it seems like maybe you caught this quality that makes this kind of book about intense pain bearable and it makes me want to think more about this idea. your writing is beautiful."

Emilie, couldn't agree more. On both counts.


message 10: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo thank you girls, thank you so much. jen, consider this my next response and delve into the myriad similarities between this book and STB!


message 11: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo Emilie wrote: "i want that feeling."

yeah, me too. :)


Jennifer (aka EM) okay, here goes:

1. the central figure of the mom - in fact, the ABSENCE of the mom (in STB through death; in FT, through "mental illness") was the anchor, the vacuum, that shaped every single character's PRESENCE. Defined them. Made them who they were - biologically, of course; but more than that too - socially, intellectually, emotionally. How they coped - or didn't; how they loved - or didn't. It was all because of the absent mother figure. She was shown - in both cases - only through their eyes; their relationship to each of them, their memories of her.

2. the theme of motherhood or, more broadly: what it means to nurture, to care for, someone you have those very complicated blood ties with. The obligation of parents to their children - and what happens when that obligation is not fulfilled - for whatever reason. I'm thinking now of Hattie - and her need to come back and be a mother-figure in the absence of Min's capacity to do that; and Esch, and her love-hate conflicted feelings about being pregnant.

3. The theme - just generally - of the importance of familial love and loyalty - even in the most dysfunctional families - as the only single thing that gets you through. Esp. for these two families, in STB and FT, who are clearly isolated from their communities because of that dysfunction.

4. The bonds of siblings. The rendering of that - its power; its conflicts but that bond, that loyalty that trumps most everything else - they are your first friends; and your first enemies. THIS is / was the strongest parallel for me - Logan and Thebes; Skeetah, Randall and Esch. How much they had to raise each other - again, because of the absence of any other parental figure. How much they loved each other; how well they knew each other; the fights and conflicts but clear depiction - beautiful rendering in both novels, I thought - that none of those things could shake their love for and loyalty to each other.


Jennifer (aka EM) this: what makes it less sad and maybe not even sad at all is that it allows you to contain it you feel you are making a difference you are there reading the book and the kids are not alone because you are there and you are getting it and as long as you are there loving the kids they will be okay

and this: there actually is an adult who cares and is there just like you are seeing and hearing and getting the kids’ pain the problem being however that this adult is also a bit fucked up so you are needed too which feels good because you are there and you care consequently everyone will be okay

Here, you are doing that jo thing that is so amazing: you are articulating not just stuff about the book, 'coz really, that's the easy part; but stuff about how you read the book, and how the book involved you. And me too. But I couldn't say it nearly as well.

But my heart was in my throat, trying to help Hattie help those kids. But she did so GOOD! SO GOOD! I loved her too. I loved them all.


message 14: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo and now i feel like a perfect bastard bc of course i saw these things, and of course they are similar in the two novels.

but... aren't these themes relatively frequent? of course i won't be able to come up with one example, but, you know, they are so frequent they are flying archetypical. antigone and her brothers . what else? what else? the sisters in pride and prejudice and in sense and sensibility. holden and phoebe (phoebe: get it?) in catcher in the rye. the siblings in Winter's Bone (this comparison is particularly apt: have you read it?). the siblings in Evening Is the Whole Day.

(i had to cheat and look at my "read" shelf!)

and then there are the cases in which the family is so hurt that the children turn against one another. those are painful books to read. evening is a whole day def. skirts that edge.

the thing is that absent mothers are the meat and potato of story-telling. i'm sure i'm missing a lot of staple childhood stories which you probably know very well, cuz i'm so badly read in childhood stories.

so is that enough to make books similar?

sure, but also, hmm, i don't know. we can tell for sure that this similarity resonated with you. no one can question that but me, i saw other things, different things in STB -- mostly i saw the heat and the poverty and the misery -- and, here, i saw a sort of life-giving joy of loving and being loved that is def. missing from that other book, not because the siblings don't love each other (they do!) but because there isn't much joy at all. what i'm saying is that ultimately we pick in each book what touches us the most, and if books happen to touch the same nerve, then they feel similar to us.

am i relativizing too much?


message 15: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo awww, thank you!

i agree that hattie is fabulous. she keeps saying she isn't then does everything right. she hugs and holds thebes and never tells her not to cry. she takes lots of time with logan, being with him when he needs to be heard (especially sweet when they sit in the rain). she lets thebes go around filthy and sticky cuz that's who thebes is or who she needs to be then. and when logan accuses her to be a control freak she justly exclaims: are you kidding me??? cuz she really, really isn't.

and she's so lovely with her sister. oh, but that's on the other thread. hahah. this is hilarious. let me go there.


Jennifer (aka EM) but... aren't these themes relatively frequent? and we pick in each book what touches us the most, and if books happen to touch the same nerve, then they feel similar to us.

Yep, they are, and that's true. That's the central flaw in the comparison. Although I wonder if those three or four things all together in two books, read back-to-back, don't warrant some kind of notice - beyond the fact that they did, indeed, touch me in my special place.

As an aside, I too saw the heat, the poverty - and especially, the hunger - in STB. But again, seeing the hunger is particularly resonant with me, too.


message 17: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo have you read Winter's Bone? i wonder if that would resonate with you in the same way.


Jennifer (aka EM) it's been on my list forever. It's another one I'm a little afraid of. I should bump it up and be brave.


message 19: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo it's okay, you know. i didn't find it traumatizing at all. anyway, it's the same story. mom is sick, kids fend for themselves. no humor, though.

now i really want to compile a list of books about parentless kids that deal with their pain through humor and quirkiness.


message 20: by Jennifer (aka EM) (last edited Feb 25, 2012 07:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jennifer (aka EM) reader's path! karen would be so proud.


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