The Flying Troutmans is a road-trip story. Hattie Troutman is 28 years old, living in Paris, and recently dumped by her boyfriend when she gets a call that her sister Min has been committed to a mental institution. That, in itself, is no great surprise to her because her sister has always been insane, sometimes managing on her own, but always at least on the edge. Her sister has 2 children: Thebes and Logan, 11 and 15 years old, respectively. So Hattie flies back to Manitoba to see about her sister and take care of her niece and nephew.
When she arrives, Min is in the hospital and looks to be there for a long time. Hattie decides that she should try to find the kids’ father, Cherkis. Cherkis did his best with Min, but finally left when he just couldn’t deal with Min anymore. He was last heard of in a town in North Dakota, so Hattie packs up the kids in Min’s van and embarks on the road trip.
This novel seems to be all surface and no depth. That’s not really a bad thing - you do get a good sense of the characters, their pain and their worries and their love of one another. But you are left with the feeling that the author doesn’t really know her characters very well, or that she was unwilling to do what it takes to really dig deep and show us what is beneath the surface. We know that Logan is one messed-up kid, good-hearted but angry (rightfully so) and frightened about his future. Hattie seems disengaged despite her obvious concern for the kids and her ongoing disappointment and anger at the Paris boyfriend who dumped her. And she has a complicated relationship with Min, consisting of equal parts love, fear, and resentment. We know this because the author tells us so, but it doesn’t quite add up.
Thebes, the 11 year old daughter is interesting. She is full of energy, talks non-stop, always has a project, always cheerful, and possibly will be as crazy as Min someday. You hope for the best for her, but are left wondering.
I liked this novel. Despite not getting to know them very well, you care about the characters and wish them well. As road-trips go, well, I’ve been on far worse.