The Flying Troutmans

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Overview

"Some families appear destined for catastrophe: meet the Troutmans. Hattie's boyfriend has just dumped her, her sister Min is back in the psych ward, and Min's kids, Logan and Thebes, are not talking and talking way too much, respectively." "Then there's the past, in which Min tried to kill Hattie once and to kill herself a lot, in which Min threw the kids' father out of the house, in which Hattie dropped out of school, in which Logan and his friends kidnapped a friend and drove around town with him in the trunk, and in which Thebes frequently
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The Flying Troutmans: A Novel

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Overview

"Some families appear destined for catastrophe: meet the Troutmans. Hattie's boyfriend has just dumped her, her sister Min is back in the psych ward, and Min's kids, Logan and Thebes, are not talking and talking way too much, respectively." "Then there's the past, in which Min tried to kill Hattie once and to kill herself a lot, in which Min threw the kids' father out of the house, in which Hattie dropped out of school, in which Logan and his friends kidnapped a friend and drove around town with him in the trunk, and in which Thebes frequently impersonated their troubled mom in order to cut class." "So, when Hattie returns to take care of her niece and nephew, she's rapidly freaked out by the realization that the responsibility is in fact far greater than she'd expected - cute as it may be, for example, that Logan is infatuated with acerbic New York Times Magazine interviewer Deborah Solomon, and charming as Thebes's hip-hop vernacular is, she's in danger of becoming their surrogate parent. She decides to take the kids in the family van (think Little Miss Sunshine) to go find their father, last heard to be running an idiosyncratic art gallery in South Dakota." What ensues is a remarkable journey across the United States, as aunt and kids - through chaos as diverse as their personalities - discover one another to be both far crazier and far more normal than any of them thought.
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Editorial Reviews

Ron Charles
invites immediate comparison with the popular indie movie "Little Miss Sunshine." Like Michael Arndt's film, it's about a collection of oddball family members on a cross-country road trip toward a highly unlikely goal. Deadpan irony and hip cultural references abound. But Toews steps over the camp and sentimentality of "Little Miss Sunshine" and displays a sharper sense of the grinding tragedy of mental illness…Yes, the road trip storyline is a little tread-worn, but Toews has created such an engaging cast for this 2,000-mile trek that you'll never be tempted to ask, "Are we there yet?" Most of the novel's success stems from the fact that Min's two witty children are irresistible characters, alternately vulnerable, affectionate, terrified, brave and annoying…There is no false promise in this story, just an awareness that in this chaotic world the only stability comes from our love for one another, quirks and all. In Toews's hands, that can be funny or heartbreaking, usually at the same time.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

A road novel helped along by a lovably nutty cast, Toews's latest (after A Complicated Kindness) follows a ragtag crew as they crisscross America. Hattie, recently dumped in Paris by her "moody, adjective-hating boyfriend," returns home to Canada after receiving an emergency phone call from her niece. Turns out, Hattie's sister, Min, is back in the psych ward, and her kids, 11-year-old Thebes and 15-year-old Logan, are fending for themselves. Thus the quirky trio-purple-haired, wise-beyond-her-years Thebes, recently expelled brother Logan and overwhelmed Hattie-embark on a road trip to the States to find the kids' long-missing father. What follows is a Little Miss Sunshine-like quest in which the characters learn about themselves and each other as they weather car repairs, sleazy motel rooms and encounters with bizarre people. Toews's gift for writing precocious children and the story's antic momentum redeem the familiar set-up, and if the ending feels a bit rushed, it's largely because it's tough to let Toews's characters go. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

The Troutman world is falling apart-again. Mentally ill Min is bed-ridden and suffering from paranoid delusions; her 15-year-old son, Logan, is in trouble at school; and her 11-year-old daughter, Thebes, is trying and failing to hold it all together. Enter a reluctant and clueless Aunt Hattie, recently dumped by her boyfriend in the City of Light, and the stage is set for this latest book by Toews (Boy of Good Breeding). After the suicidal Min is carried to the hospital, Hattie decides to take the kids on a road trip across the Canadian border into America to find the children's AWOL father. The odyssey is laced with moments of grief and dotted with the quirky places, people, and incidents one might expect to find on a circuitous journey through the hinterlands of the vast American West. Ultimately, the long road leads to the beginning of healing and the faith and strength to keep carrying on. Engaging, humorous, grim, and redemptive, this is essential reading; recommended for public libraries.
—Jyna Scheeren

Kirkus Reviews
Emulating the comedic stylings of indie hits like Little Miss Sunshine provides a wealth of material and a breath of fresh air for Canadian novelist Toews (A Boy of Good Breeding, 2006, etc). "Yeah, so things have fallen apart," declares reluctant narrator Hattie Troutman, summarizing her situation with a postmodern echo of Yeats' famous lament. Yanked from her Parisian fantasy life as an expatriate living with her leech of a boyfriend, prodigal sibling Hattie rushes home to Manitoba when her sister Min is hospitalized with another catatonic bout, symptomatic of a lifelong mental illness. Hattie is marooned with Min's 11-year-old daughter Thebes, a goofy smart aleck with a predilection for busting into gangsta rap, and 15-year-old son Logan, a moody renegade who channels his aggression into basketball. Absent of maternal instincts, Hattie decides the best course of action is a road trip to find the kids' long-absent father, Doug Cherkis. Commandeering a beat-up van, the trio travels through the alien landscapes of Cheyenne, Moab and Twentynine Palms in search of the anarchic artist who reportedly spawned the lesser Troutmans. Life on the road doesn't increase Hattie's affection toward her charges. "I thought: Strangle the children, dump their bodies in the ditch," she notes early in her voyage. With barbed wit, Toews plunders some of the emotional themes from her earlier work, among them absent fathers, the trials of adolescence and the tribulations of single motherhood. The story feels suspiciously directionless much of the time. Fortunately, the snappy personalities of Hattie's charges and the odd collection of ramblers, Jesus freaks and vagabonds they encounter make for entertaininginterludes between the deliciously uncomfortable silences of the book's primary characters. Smarter and more thoughtful than its cinematic inspirations.
From the Publisher
“Toews’s writing is a unique collision of sadness and humour. . . . The Flying Troutmans is a dark story but it is also a never-ending series of hilarious adventures.”
Ottawa Citizen

“Engaging, humorous, grim, and redemptive, this is essential reading.”
Library Journal

“It’s darkly funny, bursting at the seams with quirky characters and off-kilter pop culture references that rival Douglas Coupland’s for their incisive wit.”
The Vancouver Sun

“Toews may have invented a new genre, the romantic-depressive comedy, at which she excels.”
Toronto Star

“Toews has a terrific ability to capture the mix of irony and innocence in a smart child’s mind. . . . She balances heartbreak with laugh-out-loud wit.”
Edmonton Journal

“Toews writes . . . in a high-energy original voice filled with love, fear, humour and originality. Miriam Toews is an extraordinarily gifted writer, one who writes with unsentimental compassion for her people and an honest understanding of their past, the tectonic shifts of their present and variables of their future.”
The Globe and Mail

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307397492
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada
  • Publication date: 9/2/2008
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Miriam Toews is the author of three previous novels: Summer of My Amazing Luck; A Boy of Good Breeding and A Complicated Kindness (winner of the 2004 Governor’s General Award for fiction) and one work of non-fiction: Swing Low: A Life. She lives in Winnipeg.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

one

yeah, so things have fallen apart. A few weeks ago I got a collect call from my niece, Thebes, in the middle of the night, asking me to please come back to help with Min. She told me she’d been trying to take care of things but it wasn’t working any more. Min was stranded in her bed, hooked on blue torpedoes and convinced that a million silver cars were closing in on her (I didn’t know what Thebes meant either), Logan was in trouble at school, something about the disturbing stories he was writing, Thebes was pretending to be Min on the phone with his principal, the house was crumbling around them, the back screen door had blown off in the wind, a family of aggressive mice was living behind the piano, the neighbours were pissed off because of hatchets being thrown into their yard at all hours (again, confusing, something to do with Logan) . . . basically, things were out of control. And Thebes is only ­eleven.

I told her I’d be there as soon as I could. I had no choice. There was no question. Our parents are dead. Min didn’t have anybody else. And in just about every meaningful way, neither did I. Admittedly, I would have preferred to keep roaming around Paris pretending to be an artist with my moody, ­adjective-­hating boyfriend, Marc, but he was heading off to an ashram in India anyway and said we could communicate telepathically. I tried it a couple of days before he left. I love you, don’t go, I said silently, without moving my lips. He was standing next to me, trying to photograph a gargoyle. You’re a little in my way, he said. Can you move? No amount of telepathy worked with him, but maybe you have to be thousands of miles away from someone in order for your thoughts to work up the speed and velocity required to hit their ­target.

At the airport, Thebes came running over to me dressed entirely in royal blue terry cloth, short shorts and cropped top, and covered in some kind of candy necklace powder. The empty elastic was still around her throat. Or maybe she wore that thing all the time. She had fake tattoos all over her arms and her hair was intense purple, matted and wild, and she melted into me when I put my arms around her and tried to lift her off the ­ground.

Hey, you crazy kid, I said. How are you? She couldn’t talk because she was crying too hard. How are you, Thebie? I asked again. How are things? I didn’t have to ask her. I had a pretty good idea. I let her wrap herself around me and then I carried her over to a plastic airport chair, sat down with her sprawled in my lap, all arms and legs, like a baby giraffe, and let her cry.

How’s the songwriting going? I finally whispered in her ear. I really liked that line . . . take a verse, Mojo . . . you know? I said. She was always ­e-­mailing me her lyrics and cc’ing David Geffen on ­them.

She frowned. She wiped the snot off her face with the back of her hand, then onto her shorts. I’m more into martial arts now, and ­yo-­yoing, she said. I need to get out of my ­head.

Yeah, I said. Using your kung fu powers for ­good?

Well, she said, I feel good when I flip ­people.

Hey, I said, where’s your ­brother?

She told me he was outside waiting in the van because he didn’t know how to work the parking and also he didn’t actually have his driver’s licence, only his learner’s, he’s fifteen, he’s all jacked up on rebellion and whatever, he just wanted to wait in the van and listen to his ­music.

We headed for the exit and kind of stumbled around, falling over each other. Thebes kept her arm wrapped around my waist and tried to help me with my bag. All I had was one large backpack. I didn’t know how long I’d be staying but it didn’t really matter anyway. I’d lost my boyfriend and didn’t care about my job and there was no reason to go back to Paris. I didn’t own anything besides books, and Marc could keep those if he wanted ­to.

It was sunny and warm and the sky was a sharp, cartoony blue compared to the wet clay skies of Paris, and there was Logan sitting in their ­beat-­up van staring straight ahead at something, not us, music blasting from inside, like the van was a giant Marshall amp. Thebes ran up to the van and threw herself against the windshield. Logan snapped out of his rock ’n’ roll reverie for a second and smiled. Then he got out of the van and walked, glided, over to me and gave me a big hug with one arm and asked me how it was ­going.

All right, I said, how about ­you?

Mmmm, he said. He ­shrugged.

Hey, what’s this? I asked him. I grabbed his arm and squeezed his ­bicep.

Yeah, right, said ­Thebes.

And, dude, your pants! I said. Did you steal them from Andre the Giant? I snapped the elastic band on his boxers. Logan opened the door to the van and threw my stuff ­in.

How was Paris? he ­asked.

What? I ­said. Oh, Paris?

Yeah, he said. How was ­it?

Thebes turned down the volume on the music. Then she told me I should drive instead of Logan. She said she’d been planning her funeral on the way ­there.

I got dumped, I ­said.

No way! said ­Logan.

Well, yeah, I ­said.

You can’t get dumped in Paris, said Logan. Isn’t it supposed to be all–
By a guy or a girl? asked ­Thebes.

A guy, I ­said.

Logan stared hard at Thebes for a few seconds. He said you were gay, she ­said.

No I didn’t, said ­Logan.

You totally did! said ­Thebes.

Okay, Thebes, listen, said Logan. I didn’t–

Hey, I said. It’s okay. It really doesn’t matter. Really. But it was a ­guy.

But you’re not that old, said Thebes, right? You can still find someone if you look hard. How old are ­you?
Twenty-­eight, I ­said.

Okay, ­twenty-­eight, she said. She thought for a second. You have like two years, she said. Maybe you should dress up more, ­though.

Logan ended up driving back to their house because I didn’t know how to tell him not to and because he hadn’t seemed interested in relinquishing control of the wheel anyway. Logan and Thebes yelled at each other all the way back, the music cranked the whole ­time.

Thebes: Stay in your lane, moron!

Logan: Don’t lose your fucking shit, man!

Thebes: I don’t want to die, loser! Use two hands!

Logan: Do NOT grab the steering wheel!

Then Thebes went into this strange kind of commentary thing she does, quoting the imaginary people in her head. This time it was a funeral director, I think. She said: With an impact this severe there is not a hope of reconstructing this kid’s face. She banged the back window with her ­fist.

What was that? I asked ­her.

The lid of my coffin slamming down, she said. Closed casket. I’ll be unrecognizable ­anyway.
It was great to see the kids again. They’d changed a bit, especially Logan. He was a young man now, not a child. More on his mind, maybe, but with less compulsion to share it. Thebes was more manic than the last time I’d seen her. I knew what that was about. It’s hard not to get a little hysterical when you’re trying desperately to keep somebody you love alive, especially when the person you’re trying to save is ambivalent about being saved. Thebes reminded me of myself when I was her age, rushing home from school ahead of Min so I could create the right vibe, a mood of happiness and fun that would sustain her for another day, or so I thought. I’d mentally rehearse what I thought were amusing anecdotes to entertain her, make her laugh. I didn’t know then that all my ridiculous efforts only brought her further down. Sometimes she would laugh or applaud ­half-­heartedly, but it was always with an expression that said, yeah, whatever, Hattie, nice try, but everything is ­bullshit.

––

My birth triggered a seismic shift in my sister’s life. The day I was born she put her dress on backwards and ran away towards a brighter future, or possibly towards a brighter past. Our parents found her in a tree next door. Had she been planning to jump? She’s been doing that ever since, travelling in two opposite directions at once, towards infancy and death. I don’t know exactly what it was about me. By all accounts before I existed Min was a normal little girl, normal enough. She could pick a direction and stick with it. Our family photo albums are filled, halfway, with shots of Min laughing and smiling and enjoying life. And then, suddenly, I’m in the picture and Min’s joy evaporates. I’ve spent hours staring at those photos trying to understand my sister. Even in the ones in which I don’t appear it’s easy to see by Min’s expression that I am just beyond the lens, somewhere nearby.

Min’s had good days, some inexplicable breaks from the madness, periods of time where she functions beautifully and life is as smooth as glass, almost. The thing I remember most clearly about Cherkis, Thebes’s and Logan’s dad, is how nuts he was about Min and how excited he’d get when Min was on the ­up-­and-­up, taking care of business and acting normal. I liked that about him, but it also broke my heart because he had no idea of the amount of shit that was about to fly. Eventually, though, he did come to understand, and he did what I did, and what so many others in her life have ­done.

He ­left.

Min had a vague notion of where he’d gone. At first it was Tokyo, about as far away as you can get from here without being on your way back. He moved around the Pacific Rim, and then Europe for a while, South America, and then South Dakota. He’d call sometimes to see how the kids were doing, how Min was doing, if she wanted him to come back. No, she didn’t, she said, every time. And if he tried to take the kids she’d kill herself for real. We didn’t know whether this was a bluff or not, but nobody wanted to challenge it. They were all she had, she told him. Cherkis wasn’t the type of guy to hire a lawyer and fight for custody. He told Min he’d wait until the kids were old enough to decide for themselves and take things from there. He didn’t want to rock Min’s boat. He didn’t want anybody getting ­hurt.

I moved to Paris, fled Min’s dark planet for the City of Lights. I didn’t want to leave her and the kids but the truth is she scared me and I thought she might be better off without me, too. Especially if I was the embodiment of her particular anguish. It had been hard to know whether to stay or go.

It’s impossible to move through the stages of grief when a person is both dead and alive, the way Min is. It’s like she’s living permanently in an airport terminal, moving from one departure lounge to another but never getting on a plane. Sometimes I tell myself that I’d do anything for Min. That I’d do whatever was necessary for her to be happy. Except that I’m not entirely sure what that would ­be.

So the next best thing to being dead was being far away, at least as far as Paris. I had a boyfriend, Marc, and a job in a bookstore, and occasionally I’d go home, back to Manitoba, to Min and Thebes and Logan, for Christmas or the odd birthday, or to help with Min if she was in a really bad patch, but of course that was complicated because I never knew whether I should be there or ­not.

I wanted to be an artist, in Paris, or a psychiatrist. Sometimes I’d haul a giant pad of sketch paper and some charcoal pencils to the square in front of the Louvre or wherever the tourists were and I’d offer to sketch them for free. I didn’t feel right about charging anybody, because I wasn’t really doing a good job. In every sketch, it didn’t matter if I was drawing the face of a man or a woman or a kid, I’d include a detail from Min’s face, from what I could remember at that precise moment. Sometimes it was the shape of her eyebrows, or her wide lips, or a constellation of tiny freckles, or even just a shadow beneath the cheekbone. The people I sketched were always slightly confused and disappointed when I showed them my work, I could tell, but most of them were kind, especially because I didn’t expect any ­payment.

Our father died in a drowning accident in Acapulco when Min and I were kids. He drowned trying to save us. We’d been racing and had swum out farther than we should have and Min had started panicking, screaming for help. The current was strong and we couldn’t get back to the shore no matter how hard we pushed against the water. I remember yelling at Min to move sideways and to let go of me. After that, my memory of events is blurry. I have a feeling that Min was pushing me down, under water. I think that I remember her hand on my head, or on my shoulder, but maybe I’m wrong. Our mother told us that Dad had heard our screams and had swum out to get us, but that he too had got caught in the undertow and disappeared. They said it was a riptide. Other people on the beach eventually grabbed a boat from somewhere and rescued us, but by then Dad was gone. Min was fifteen and I was nine. They left us lying in the sun on the beach, crying and vomiting up salt water, while they searched for ­him.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Foreword

1. What is the significance of the novel’s title? How did it strike you before reading the book, and then afterwards?

2. What is your favourite part of The Flying Troutmans? Is it also the funniest part?

3. To what extent is Hattie looking for something, as opposed to running away from things?

4. Discuss the portrayal of mental illness in The Flying Troutmans.

5. If you have read any other novels by Miriam Toews, how do they compare to The Flying Troutmans?

6. Who is your favourite character in the novel, and why?

7. When Min whispers to Hattie from her hospital bed, what is she asking her to do?

8. Consider the importance of one or more of the following in the book: marriage, music, siblings, community, depression, family, death, basketball, love, children, loss, eccentricity, acceptance, adolescence . . . or choose a subject of your own.

9. How do Hattie’s feelings about Min change over the course of the novel?

10. How does Miriam Toews interweave the past and present in The Flying Troutmans, and to what purpose?

11. What are your thoughts on Hattie’s ex-boyfriend, Marc?

12. About Min:

“In the world of children, Min was a genius, she could navigate it in her sleep. She could read book after book to them, sing song after song, soothe them for hours, tenderly and humorously cajole them out of the tantrums, build cities and empires with them in the sandbox for an entire day and answer a million questions in a row without ever losing her cool. She had conceived them, given birth to them and nursed them into life. But out there, in that other world, shewas continually crashing into things.”(p.175)

How does this passage add to your sense of Min? Is it typical, or unusual? Does it tell us something important about Hattie?

13. About Thebes:

“Thebes had found a soulmate in this homicidal cosmonaut. Impeccably, somberly united in their mutual, impossible longing to live in places that weren’t real, they high-fived and punched and slapped and then gazed for a while out the window at the real world, the one they’d had it with.” (p.195)

How does this description enhance or alter your sense of Thebes’ personality?

14. Logan on Min:

“Even when she gets better, he said, it’s for like three days or maybe a week and then it’s over, she gives up, it’s just so . . . I think Thebes and I are on our own.”(p.229)

How is this comment important to the book, and to understanding Logan? Do you think it’s true?

15. The novel begins, “Yeah, so things have fallen apart.” Are they back together again by the end of the book, or not? Did the ending come as a surprise to you?

16. Are you recommending The Flying Troutmans to friends? Why, or why not?

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Reading Group Guide

1. What is the significance of the novel’s title? How did it strike you before reading the book, and then afterwards?

2. What is your favourite part of The Flying Troutmans? Is it also the funniest part?

3. To what extent is Hattie looking for something, as opposed to running away from things?

4. Discuss the portrayal of mental illness in The Flying Troutmans.

5. If you have read any other novels by Miriam Toews, how do they compare to The Flying Troutmans?

6. Who is your favourite character in the novel, and why?

7. When Min whispers to Hattie from her hospital bed, what is she asking her to do?

8. Consider the importance of one or more of the following in the book: marriage, music, siblings, community, depression, family, death, basketball, love, children, loss, eccentricity, acceptance, adolescence . . . or choose a subject of your own.

9. How do Hattie’s feelings about Min change over the course of the novel?

10. How does Miriam Toews interweave the past and present in The Flying Troutmans, and to what purpose?

11. What are your thoughts on Hattie’s ex-boyfriend, Marc?

12. About Min:

“In the world of children, Min was a genius, she could navigate it in her sleep. She could read book after book to them, sing song after song, soothe them for hours, tenderly and humorously cajole them out of the tantrums, build cities and empires with them in the sandbox for an entire day and answer a million questions in a row without ever losing her cool. She had conceived them, given birth to them and nursed them into life. But out there, in that other world, she was continually crashing into things.”(p.175)

How does this passage add to your sense of Min? Is it typical, or unusual? Does it tell us something important about Hattie?

13. About Thebes:

“Thebes had found a soulmate in this homicidal cosmonaut. Impeccably, somberly united in their mutual, impossible longing to live in places that weren’t real, they high-fived and punched and slapped and then gazed for a while out the window at the real world, the one they’d had it with.” (p.195)

How does this description enhance or alter your sense of Thebes’ personality?

14. Logan on Min:

“Even when she gets better, he said, it’s for like three days or maybe a week and then it’s over, she gives up, it’s just so . . . I think Thebes and I are on our own.”(p.229)

How is this comment important to the book, and to understanding Logan? Do you think it’s true?

15. The novel begins, “Yeah, so things have fallen apart.” Are they back together again by the end of the book, or not? Did the ending come as a surprise to you?

16. Are you recommending The Flying Troutmans to friends? Why, or why not?

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Not so much

    What a family disaster! From a certifiable mom, kids left to their own devices and once the mom decides to allow herself to try to die via starvation, her sister zooms in to save the kids, but really? Taking them out of their native country? Letting an unlicensed 15 year old drive? No rules? Even to personal cleanliness? And that's just the surface! Remarkable? Yes, but mostly so for no one being arrested for child abandonment or neglect!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I honestly don't know what to say about this book. It was...odd

    I honestly don't know what to say about this book. It was...odd to say the least. It doesn't read like any other book that I've ever read and I'm still not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. The characters and situations were very realistic, but it's the writing style I'm just not sure of. It was almost like the story was being recounted instead of told. Nothing seemed to be direct quotes or statements. It all appeared to be retold after the fact. I don't know. It was just odd.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2010

    The Flying Troutmans

    Strange book

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews

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