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by Miriam Toews
Reviewed by Andrew Stancek

Canadian writer Miriam Toews' 2004 novel A Complicated Kindness won the Governor General's Award for fiction; her 2008 novel The Flying Troutmans, due out in the US in paperback in October, has won the Rogers Writers' Trust Prize. The Flying Troutmans begins with an observation: "Yeah, so things have fallen apart." At the novel's conclusion, things may still be falling apart, but after plentiful plot explosions come real fireworks and cause for celebration. Lives that have been out of control remain largely out of control, but a faith that they will get better justifies the fireworks.

The central character is Min, whose life is regularly punctuated by suicide attempts, beginning on the day her newborn younger sister Hattie is brought home and continuing throughout adolescence, marriage, and motherhood. The novel opens with Min's being committed, once again, to a psychiatric ward; it ends with her checking herself out. The other characters display their own quirks. Thebes, Min's daughter, has a fragment of a scalpel stuck in her brain and keeps knocking herself in the head in the vain attempt to dislodge it, meanwhilewriting her own Ten Commandments. Logan, Min's son, fantasizes about a writer for the New York Times because "she is solid", carves cryptic statements into the dashboard of the family's van, and shoots baskets obsessively. Hattie, the narrator, longs for her dead mother to tell her what to do, but in the meantime "high is the new normal around here".

The arc of the novel is one of discovery, with a voyage as the central plot device carried along by what Toews refers to as "brief cinematic scenes". Hattie and Min's children go in search of Min's long-lost husband, hoping to bring some normalcy to their lives, some reconciliation. Min is always told, "You'll be fine, you'll get better, I promise"—a hollow reassurance that is needed by all the other characters as well.

Yet in spite of the bleakness of Min's story, the tone is mainly comic, the mood hopeful. At the beginning we are told by her that "everything is bullshit but it's also funny." Logan, the basketball junkie, when asked about his outlook on getting the ball into the basket says, "I always believe that it will. Every time....I'm always sure the next one will go in." The comedic aspects and this underlying faith transform the novel. Min, both the characters and the reader come to believe, will not kill herself. The voyage will succeed. There will be fireworks.