3.5 out of 5: In The Flying Troutmans, a heartsick aunt just back from Paris takes her mentally-unstable sister's kids on a cross-country road trip in search of their father. Along the way, this newly-formed "family" encounters local characters, road kill, a pit bull, and plenty of other adventures. Everyone in this book is quirky and loveable, and Toews's casual (and quotation-mark free) prose streams along at a quick pace, paralleling the group's travels.
The following conversation between Hattie (the aunt) and Logan (Hattie's sister's teenaged son) about shooting hoops is typical of Toews's unique style:
What do you think about when you shoot? I asked him.
Nothing, he said.
Oh, really? I said. You just concentrate entirely on shooting?
Yeah, I guess, he said.
Do you worry that the ball won't go in? I asked him.
No, he said, I always believe that it will. Every time.
Seriously? I said. Even when you've missed a bunch of shots?
Yeah, I think it's gonna go in every time, he said.
And then, so, when it doesn't go in do you feel all disillusioned? I asked him.
No, not at all, he said, 'cause I'm always sure the next one will go in.
Logan's basketball philosophy turns out to be the central message of this book: no matter what bad things have happened to you, keep believing the next thing will be good.
In opposition to this uplifting message, a darker story revolving around the sisters' precarious relationship is revealed through flashbacks and Hattie's regular calls to the mental institution where her sister is staying. Unfortunately, Toews neglects to fully explore this troubled relationship and misses an opportunity to develop something deeper than a novel about an odd roadtrip. The end of the journey, both literally and metaphorically, is unsatisfying, but the trip along the way is charming and occasionally very funny.