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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Two Page Minimum: The Flying Troutmans

Posted by Alison Hallett on Thu, Oct 16, 2008 at 4:23 PM

(Welcome to my lackadaisically updated blog column Two Page Minimum, wherein I take a new book out for drinks, and give it a few minutes to grab my attention. Two Page Minimum is my judgment on that speed-dating experience.)
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Who's your date today?

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews, a novel about a 28-year-old woman, Hattie, called upon to care for her 11-year-old niece and 15-year-old nephew after her sister is committed to a mental institution. Unsure what to do, she loads the kids in a van and heads to South Dakota to try to find their father.

Where did you go and what did you drink?

Beulahland. Hot toddies. The only way to drink Old Crow, really.

What does your date say about itself?

Ready for the terrible blurb that's prominently displayed on the front cover? "Miriam Toews writes like an angel." Yeah, all those ink-stained angels up in heaven, scribbling away on their memoirs... wait, what? Then there's the cover image, yet another black-and-white photo of a girl with her face obscured. Bor-ing. It's only the quirky title text, lines slightly askew, that gives any hint that the book might actually be interesting.

Is there a representative quote?
The three Troutmans are in a van headed toward Murdo, South Carolina. Hattie's talkative 11-year-old niece Thebes has been asking Hattie a string of semi-obvious questions, to the irritation of her older brother Logan.

"If This Is Tourist Season, Why Can't I Shoot 'Em?" she said. We'd seen that bumper sticker on a truck that had passed us earlier. What does that mean? she asked.
It's a joke, I said. Like hunting season? Tourist season?
Yeah, but why would you--
Fuuuuck! said Logan. Shut the fuck up! He kicked the glove compartment door and the stuff poured out onto the floor again.
Logan, cut it out! I said.
Yeah, but she's being intentionally stupid and you're--
Logan, she's not intentionally being stupid.
Hey, said Thebes, unsure. Hey!
I think Thebes knew what all that stuff meant, it was true. She just wanted to know the three of us, her ad hoc family, were alive and that we still had enough juice to react to each other's bullshit. But I understood Logan's frustration. She likes to talk, I said to him. I shrugged. It's better than not talking, right?
He stared out the window.


Will you two end up in bed together?

Absolutely. This one's a keeper. The setup appeals to my YA sensibilities, and the young characters are fantastically written, but this a very adult novel at the same time: The kids are described from the perspective of the irreverent, well-intentioned Hattie, who wants what's best for her niece and nephew, but isn't quite sure what that might be--she invents the idea of finding the kids' father as a means of distracting them all from the fact that their mother is suicidal. The book is also funny as hell, and I learned a new pickup line from it:

How much does a polar bear weigh? Enough to break the ice. Cha-ching!

Miriam Toews reads Tuesday, Oct 20, at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside, 7:30 pm

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