Thebes Troutman as Traveling Tween

Revising the Family Story

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 Trent University msteffler@trentu.ca

Abstract

Thebes Troutman in Miriam Toews’s is a quirky eleven-year-old Canadian tween. In this article I argue that Thebes’s body, skin, and movement offer a textual counterpoint to the rigidity of the story of the nuclear family as it is conventionally told. Aligning the deterritorialization of the family with that of the nation, I argue that Thebes’s marking of her body in an engagingly bizarre tween performance proclaims her separation from the conventional family road trip and story, promoting new iterations of family, home, belonging, and origins. It is Thebes as tween who, through creating a zany, sometimes disturbing, but articulate identity and culture on her own skin, raises new possibilities of the tween’s role in breaking down borders. Thebes Troutman as a twenty-first-century fictional tween carves out space for new directions and a more fluid Canadian family.

The Tween in Twenty-First-Century Canadian Fiction

Thebes Troutman in Miriam Toews’s The Flying Troutman is a precocious, articulate, and loquacious eleven-year-old, not unlike L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley. Appearing on the scene exactly one hundred years apart—Anne of Green Gables was published in 1908 and The Flying Troutmans in 2008—Anne, who accidentally dyes her hair green, and Thebes, who deliberately dyes hers purple, share many traits but head in different directions. This is an article about Thebes Troutman, but I introduce her by way of the most famous eleven-year-old girl in Canadian literature because I believe that it helps to look back as we move forward. Anne is seeking a family, as is Thebes, who is watching hers fall apart. Both characters are vulnerable as they search for love, home, and a place to belong. Ostensibly upbeat and outgoing, Anne and Thebes also experience dark moments of feeling unloved, misunderstood, and unwanted. Anne contributed to stable notions of family, community, and nation at the beginning of the twentieth century as opposed to Thebes, who dismantles beliefs in differentiated and identifiable families, communities, and nationalisms at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In explaining the continued popularity of Anne, Irene Gammel argues that “Green Gables was built on national, literary, and aesthetic ideals of home that would resonate with readers who felt uprooted in a modern world of flux” (2008: 138). The Troutmans’ journey reflects and confronts twenty-first-century sensations of up-rootedness and flux caused by globalization and migrations rather than resisting them or compensating for them. Thebes provides the necessary energy to inspire movement as opposed to settlement, thereby fueling the progression of the family away from its origins, across borders, and beyond comfortable security.

In her 2010 introduction to Anne’s World: A New Century of Anne of Green Gables, Gammel describes Anne as possessing “exuberance … vitality … charisma … intensity … [an] indomitable spirit … infectious love … [a] need for love … vulnerabilities [and] charm” (2010: 3). According to Jack Zipes, Anne “is the unknown, the unexpected, that will give a new and deeper meaning to family and community” (2008: xiii). Fewer words are required to describe Thebes, who in 2008 has the advantage of belonging to a clearly demarcated and recognizable group. She is firmly ensconced in the place and role of tween, displaying what are now familiar qualities allocated to tweenhood, including the power and advantages that come with the occupation of liminal space between girl and teen, innocence and experience, naiveté and disillusionment, hope and cynicism. The “Groovy Girls stickers all over [her] door” (2008: 30), her collection of Archie comics, her banishment from Zellers “for having a perfume testers war with [her] friends” (39) are a few of the details that proclaim her tweendom and provide a concise sense of who she is.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s 2008 entry defines tween as “[a] person who is nearly, or has only just become, a teenager.”1 Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh’s explanation in Seven Going on Seventeen: Tween Studies in the Culture of Girlhood that the “idea of tween” fills “the conceptual category of the time of transition between a girl’s childhood and her adolescence,” although not as “a stable category” (2005: 13), is a more satisfactory definition in its emphasis on a transitory and fluctuating nature. In Tweening the Girl: The Crystallization of the Tween Market, Natalie Coulter identifies the tween as a “social construction of consumer discourse” (2014: 4), “embraced and cherished” for the “ambiguity of her transitionality” (12). In her emphasis on tweens possessing “their own stories, their own media, their own celebrities and their own product lines that cater[ed] specifically to them as transitional subjectivities” (13), Coulter brings a degree of agency into the picture. It is “their own stories,” and specifically the “tween story” of Thebes Troutman as told by Miriam Toews through her narrator, Hattie Troutman, that interests me in its relation, through fiction, of a Canadian tween experience that affects family and, by extension, community and nation.

Playing backwards at girl and forwards at teen and adult, Thebes displays a strong sense of irony and parody. Mitchell and Reid-Walsh describe this “type of play” in which Thebes indulges as

not ‘playing at’ growing up (as with Barbie) but instead ‘playing with’ teen culture. This is present in multiple ways such as making fun of, or deliberately masquerading in the style or dress as in a parody of playing ‘dress up’ when a small child. Since the implied invitation is not to enact a teen role but self-consciously to pretend to be a teen also, this suggests that the player may assume a different stance towards the subject of play, namely one of critical distance as opposed to one of imitation.

(2005: 3)

This establishment of critical distance is very much what Thebes strives for. Her identification of herself as Veronica Lodge from Riverdale to maintenance workers at a run-down basketball court highlights her playfulness and quick-thinking—what Coulter identifies as tweenish “frivolousness and fun that evade women” (2014: 12). The fact that the workers, unfazed, actually write down the information for a survey indicates the advantage held by the tween in terms of access to information and identity-switching. Thebes’s familiarity with films such as Psycho and Run Lola Run; magazines such as Q Magazine and Tiger Beat; and musicians such as Beyoncé Knowles may not reach the standards of taste, appreciation, and understanding required by her teen brother Logan, but does provide her with useful cultural capital. Thebes embraces a range of cultural products, including the older and more conventional popular culture of Riverdale, the contemporary Beyoncé, and the more intellectually demanding Run Lola Run (1998), indicating an easy comfort with all that is available to a tween who has not yet been forced to declare allegiances to genres, levels, or quality of culture, but remains open to all possibilities.

Thebes also tries out a wide array of languages on her aunt, Hattie, who has returned home from Paris in response to Thebes’s call for help for her mother, Min, who is suffering from severe depression. She imitates, for example, the voices of characters from everyday life, slang, and rap culture, relaying to Hattie that “Popo says when Lo wakes up we’re outie” (2008: 162) after police officers check on Logan sleeping behind the wheel of the van in a parking lot. Logan has reminded Thebes that she is “a little white kid” and does not “have to talk like Chuck D” (60), but her need to take on the voices of others is part of a compulsive performance of trying on cultures, races, ethnicities, ages, and classes outside her own as she strives to reach beyond her identity and limitations as a “little white kid.” Thebes’s language is blatantly twenty-first-century, delivered with parodic mimicry and performative naiveté, placing it firmly in what I would identify as tween talk in its playfulness. Examples include “Roger that, daddio” (119), “True dat, my brotha” (60), “Yo! Dude!” (74), “Word” (80), and “What fresh hell is this?” (121), a mixture of attempts at hipster slang, urban slang, hip-hop, and Dorothy Parker. Thebes’s voice is different, I would argue, from Nomi Nickel’s teen voice in Toews’s A Complicated Kindness, which has hardened the playfulness and vulnerability of the tween talk into cynicism. Thebes’s playful performance is subversive, but also serves to lift up and lighten the heaviness that falls on Hattie and Logan.

Thebes falls within the criteria for tween set up by Coulter: she is within the “age range (usually around 8-12 years old)” (2014: 4), dynamically inhabits “a whole and total moment in the lifecycle” (8), and, most importantly, “[has] access to family resources” and “[inserts] herself into the family economy” (7).2 In Thebes’s case the valued family resources and economy are not based in spending power and consumerism but in the imagination, creativity, and energy so desperately needed by the Troutman family. In an act that parodies tween buying-power and financial contributions, Toews has Thebes create giant novelty checks, which she randomly presents to family members when moved to do so. She makes, for example, a four-foot, million-dollar cardboard check for Logan with “popsicle sticks for ballast on the back so it wouldn’t bend” (2008: 92) just to congratulate him for being her brother.

Although Thebes is very much a tween consumer and performer, her liminal position is not limited to her membership in a predictable target market. Her marginality encourages an eccentricity that belies predictability. Although the trappings of tween culture are very visible on Thebes’s body, Toews focuses on the body itself—specifically on the tween skin as a site of vulnerability and resilience in its service as both barrier and membrane between the public world and private self. She lifts the consumerism, products, and tween culture to look more closely at the body on which they are displayed.

The current road trip challenges the predictably conventional summer road trips of Min and Hattie’s childhood. This twenty-first-century trip, taken in response to a crisis, displays some of the subversion and resistance associated with the more radical road trip genre, specifically reshaping conventional roles of gender and age within the family.3 The Ford Aerostar minivan becomes a mobile home, taking on and reflecting the transitory, uprooted, and in-flux conditions of the globalized twenty-first century. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s observation that “nomadic waves or flows of deterritorialization go from the central layer to the periphery, then from the new center to the new periphery, falling back to the old center and launching forth to the new” (1987: 53) accurately describes the impetus and nature of the road trip undertaken by the “flying Troutmans,” which undoes and opens up specific lines and demarcations of the territory of family, but not without a continued attraction to the previous center and origin. Thebes, who is in “perpetual motion” (2008: 56), motivates Hattie and Logan to persist with the family journey when their adult and teen convictions waver. They take their cue from this zany niece and sister whose in-between position frees her from many of the constraints they face. They depend on both her vulnerability and her resilience—strangely contradictory qualities arising from her age and gender—as the trio moves from place to place in search of Cherkis, Thebes and Logan’s father. The movement of the minivan kick-starts the fluid and evolving notions of family and home.

The Traveling Tween

In Ephemeral Territories: Representing Nation, Home, and Identity in Canada, Erin Manning applies Deleuze and Guatarri’s theory of deterritorizalization to Canadian notions of home, identity, and nation. Insofar as deterritorialization is taking place in Toews’s novel, it involves, to use Manning’s words, a move to a “milieu” where “what is of concern is not the stability of origins” (2003: xix) and where it is realized that “territory and identity” cannot “be adequately policed so as to create an entity called ‘home’ that will indefinitely protect us from the exigencies of our existences.” In proposing the desirability of “a continual rewriting of the political through a multiple and rhizomatic movement of deterritorialization, reterritorialization, and deterritorialization,” Manning sees the result—a “shifting between the different states of territoriality”—as evoking the assurance that “we continue to be in a state of flux whereby the homes we construct remain ephemeral” (2003: xx). The road trip undertaken by the Troutmans deliberately partakes of these qualities of shifting and flux, aiming for ephemeral homes and families rather than stable and permanent ones.

The road trip also participates in what Julia Emberley, in “Institutional Genealogies in the Global Net of Fundamentalisms, Families, and Fantasies,” identifies as the desired “overturn[ing] [of] the search for origins,” which will “denaturalize whatever dominant … origin stories currently exist” (2007: 153), in this case narratives of the North American consolidated “nuclear family.”4 The Troutmans, and specifically Thebes, offer an opportunity for the twenty-first-century Canadian family to be reread as what we might call post-nuclear in an evolving national space.

Past and present narratives related in the course of Toews’s novel focus on how family members have tried to rescue one another with mixed success from death, despair, drowning, suicide, foster homes, and the so called system. The current journey is ostensibly caused by the attraction of Min to the edge; Hattie notes that Min “loved the brink, going to it and returning from it” (2008: 258) in a kind of arrested and non-productive repetition of a single wave of deterritorialization. The road trip allows the three Troutman travellers to move to the brink as well, in their case to the edge of conventional family structures and relationships. Once at the brink, they then pull back to the security and comfort of the known, but not as far back as the starting point, before launching forth once again into “smooth space,” where movement is, to quote Deleuze and Guattari, “perpetual, without aim or destination, without departure or arrival” (1987: 353). Governed by clues left behind by Cherkis, the trip fluctuates between the minimal structure provided by following the tracks of the missing father and regular releases from the pursuit of that quest. There is comfort in this movement between striated and smooth space, between the reassurance of the marked trail and the unknown possibilities of the open road.

Although Hattie is motivated to find Cherkis, her own creative lie in establishing this goal renders the road trip fictional to a certain extent. Hattie tells Logan and Thebes that Min has asked her to find their father when Min has actually asked Hattie to help her die. The fiction softens the focused linear journey in striated space, in which both direction and movement are dictated by the physical properties of the vehicle and road. This striated space, referred to by Manning as “heavily coded with normative boundaries” is, in this case, fictionalized into smooth space, encouraging qualities of “errancy and nomadism” (2003: 22) in a journey in which the destination evolves amid fairly loose wanderings. Hattie’s creative lie thus transforms the conventional patrilineal search into an errant and nomadic one, partially governed by the drive to find Cherkis, but also shaped by the immediate practicalities of the imposed maternal role of taking care of her niece and nephew, evading the foster homes inscribed in the system, and avoiding Min’s request for help. Logan’s mimicry of “a burned-out social worker with an impossible caseload” sighing and saying “in a fake earnest voice, Yup, where are the fathers?” (2008: 104) accentuates the need for revised questions in relation to the twenty-first-century family.

The negotiation of the Canada-US border near the beginning of the Troutmans’ road trip emphasizes the limitations of crossing by vehicle and road rather than by plane and air. Negotiating the border by land, necessitated by the Troutmans’ lack of money and inability to plan ahead, is less speedy and efficient than crossing by air. It does, however, encourage spontaneity and solidarity. Manning maintains that the “stranger” or “other” “must be capable of turning the border inside out by reworking the official narratives” (2003: 73), which is exactly what Hattie, Logan, and Thebes do with respect to the narration of family. Forbidden by Hattie to play the role of comedian or kidnap victim at the border, Thebes chooses not to play at all when she is asked to identify herself as Hattie’s niece. To explain her silence, Logan designates Thebes as mute and “profoundly retarded” (2008: 71). The label follows Thebes from the border to the Cheyenne rodeo and carnival, where “the family of haters” seated behind Hattie and Thebes complain that they do not want “some wild foreign retard leapin’ up every second and blockin’ their view” (117). Performing difference and being pushed into difference move Thebes beyond her white, able-bodied, and healthy identity, increasing her awareness of difference, diversity, and illness.

At the rodeo Thebes becomes what she has been resisting—the vulnerable eleven-year-old daughter—an identity she represses through her performance as quirky tween and one that accentuates the absence of her mother, Min, and thus forces her to face what she is in danger of losing. At this point, the separation between private and public breaks down as “tears were running down her face and getting mixed up with the cotton candy” (2008: 117). The scene is reminiscent of Hattie’s original meeting of Thebes at the airport.

Thebes came running over to me dressed entirely in 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.

(2–3)

The smearing of the candy powder on her skin marks her body on the outside while the empty string announces the ingestion of the candy into the body. She has consumed and been branded by the candy necklace, a blatant symbol of tween playing both girl and teen, as is the fake tattoo, which safely imitates and intimates the real thing. The marked skin and bad hair persist, with Thebes “still covered in candy necklace crap” (2008: 34, emphasis in original) the following day. While traveling she takes her “filthy, sweaty hair and sculpt[s] it upwards like a Smurf’s and [sticks] a Sharpie through it Pebbles Flintstone-style” (164), making Anne Shirley’s green hair extremely tame by comparison.

Along with the search for Cherkis in elusive and evolving locations in the United States, the road trip indirectly seeks healing for Min, left behind at home. According to Hattie, Min herself defies linearity and progression, “travelling in two opposite directions at once, towards infancy and death” (2008: 7), elongating a similar movement in the tween, who is looking backwards to girlhood and forwards to teenhood. As Thebes plays with the fanciful idea of driving in directions that would carve Min’s name onto the landscape, Hattie realizes that the lack of curves in Min’s name would actually make this possible, but only “if the roads had matched up with the lines” of the letters, which they do not, and “rivers and mountain ranges and deserts and gullies” did not separate “M-I-N from posterity on the map” (75), which they do. The inability to imprint Min’s name on the land or map in any visible or permanent way reflects her elusiveness and the family’s fear that she will disappear altogether, thus becoming a permanent absence rather than a temporary silence and gap.

The nomadism pervading the road trip and the novel is a response to what Manning identifies as the “myth of belonging” (2003: 43), in this case to an identifiable and static family. In Toews’s (and Hattie’s) narrative, the concept and formation of family involves becoming rather than being. Thebes at eleven years of age revels in her “transitional subjectivit[y]” (Coulter 2014: 13) and willingly experiments with the more fluid becoming demanded by the family’s unstable condition. As a tween on the brink of a transition into a body capable of regenerating family and citizens of the nation, Thebes is the key player in her flamboyant performance of a role that confronts the containment of family and nation by prescribed borders. She cuts new routes/roots and performs alternatives, carrying the dirt, mess, and complications of her traveling life and her disintegrating family on her skin and body as symbolized by the residue of the candy necklace.

The Tween Body

Toews turns the reader’s gaze inward—to the interior of the van and still further and more radically to the interior of the marked bodies within the van. Min’s fading into nothingness is counteracted by the efforts of Hattie, Thebes, and Logan to prepare a place for Cherkis and face the unknown terror of Min’s illness. As the road trip progresses, the minivan, a kind of protective shell holding together the bodies within it, leaks oil in an alarming fashion just as Thebes’s colorful eleven-year-old female body releases its excessive bodily fluids, contributing to the blurring and erasure of conventional bodies and borders.

The impossibility of imprinting language onto the land initiates the marking of surfaces within the van, where Thebes and Logan write, cut, and carve in order to rearrange what society has sanctioned as the norm. Logan, who is marked by “scars, faded hickeys and plaster cast” (2008: 208), works in an aggressive way, carving words into the dashboard and creating a bloody mannequin head entitled “This Boy is Obviously Dying” (178). Thebes, filling a more stereotypical female role, incessantly cuts, pastes, glitters, and colors elaborate projects out of a variety of craft supplies and as tween is more lightly marked than the teenaged Logan. She draws on herself and sports a scalp “discoloured from the purple dye and speckled with dirt and glue and glitter” (93). Her body is imprinted in a bizarre second-hand way as a result of sleeping on one of her poems, which leaves “small letters inscribed backwards on one of her cheeks” (183). In decorating herself she becomes creator and creation, marked in eccentric and disturbing ways with innocent childhood material. These efforts are her way of entertaining and comforting Hattie and Logan, but the eventual blurring of her decorated body with tears, sweat, and snot reveals her vulnerability and shifts her from a caregiver to a needy recipient of care, a role more appropriate to her age. It is in the smearing and melting that Thebes, as transitional tween, encourages and reflects the fluid breakdown of what has been solidly engrained as fixed and static in family bodies and roles.

Other kids were staring at her hair and her holster and her general prodigious strangeness. The fake tattoos she’d had all over her arms and legs had smeared and faded in the pool the other night and her skin had a rainbow glow to it that was pretty and unique in a way, but could also easily be mistaken for some awful skin disease.

(2008: 116)

Claudia Benthien, in her discussion of “the nineteenth-century literary technique of creating a semiotics of character types by means of skin’s structures and shadings” (2002: 104), points out that the child’s skin is often viewed as “transparent” and “diaphanous” (107). Thebes’s tween skin, smeared with dirt, snot, tears, sweat, and candy, speaks back to any remaining traces of such symbolic and idealized essentialism, emphasizing its emphatic tween qualities. Her twenty-first-century surface is a concrete canvas that is decorated, marked, and cut, serving as a “cover to be modified” (Benthien 2002: 3) and a “place of encounter,” which incorporates in a bizarre manner “the genre of self-portrait” (2). In the elaborate, changing, and layered performance and masquerade, it is difficult to identify a singular role or self, rendering the self-portrait an exercise in multiplicity and depth rather than surface and clarity.

In the patriarchal view of the “woman as a hollow space with an enveloping, smooth external skin” (Benthien 2002: 89), as a container or vessel, the skin serves as a protective barrier against the outside but is also viewed as a permeable meeting place between the internal body and external world. Benthien comments on this duality in the view of the “self as in the skin and the self as the skin,” noting that the skin “is permeable and also forms a closure against the environment.” It is the view of the skin as a closure or wall that “gives rise to the ecstasy of stepping out of the dermis” (2002: 237, emphasis added), a phenomenon familiar to Thebes, not in sexual terms, but in her awareness of what she identifies as “out-of-body experiences” when “you see yourself … like getting into a car or on a swing set” and “for that split second you really believe that the person you’re seeing is actually you” (2008: 185, ellipsis in original).

For Elizabeth Grosz, the female body is constructed as a “lack or absence … a leaking, uncontrollable, seeping liquid … a formlessness” (1994: 203). Thebes’s tween corporality, to use Grosz’s words, is definitely “inscribed as a mode of seepage” (205). Snot, sweat, and tears make up the leaking liquids, which meet with external agents—“mayonnaise and mustard running down her face” (2008: 74), “salsa [dribbling] down her chin” (184), and the ever present dirt which smears into filthiness. Thebes does not appear to be self-conscious about body emissions, perhaps because she does not yet have to deal with menstrual blood. She does, however, experience leaking blood in the form of a nosebleed caused by a poorly aimed frisbee, the after-effects of which linger in “half-moons of dried blood around the edges of her nostrils” (78). Gerry Bloustein, in Girl Making: A Cross-Cultural Ethnography on the Processes of Growing up Female, emphasizes the expectation that “substances have to be contained in the body” in a demonstration of self-control and that “foodstuffs, sneezing, excessive laughter, regurgitated matter are all substances that the mature person does not permit to occur in public” (2003: 103). Obviously Thebes does not yet subscribe to this code.

Thebes’s skin, I would argue, deliberately “mediates the world by mingling with it” (Connor 2004: 29), bringing the outside in and the inside out. Grosz maintains that as the “most primitive, essential, and constitutive of all sources of sensory stimulation,” the skin “is in a particularly privileged position to receive information and excitations from both the interior and exterior of the organism” (1994: 35). I see the tween skin in its in-between condition as being particularly attuned to this stimulation. When understood as housing the body, the skin is “a stony wall, a static and impermeable boundary between the self and the world” (Benthien 2002: 28). With an emphasis on excretions rather than protection, however, the skin is also a “porous layer … a place of permeability and mysterious metamorphoses” with “fluxes” (39) of discharges through existing orifices and breaks through the skin. The secretion of sweat seen in Thebes’s “thin moustache of sweat on her upper lip and her hair … plastered to her head” (2008: 160) emphasizes a moderate permeability in the skin’s function as a temperature regulator.5 In this way the skin is a functioning liminal space sharing the more general advantages of the liminality of tweenhood itself.

Perhaps the best way to understand Thebes’s skin, however, is as a crust. Her body houses not only tissue and liquid but also rigid material in the fragment of a scalpel that broke off in her brain during an operation when she was three or four years old. This causes no apparent problems except for “her habit of knocking herself in the head in a vain attempt to dislodge” it so that, to quote Thebes, “it would be somewhere between my brain and my skull, in that nook, and then it would be a simple laser procedure or something like that to remove it” (2008: 37). Thebes in play and in earnest is sensitive to the spaces immediately above and below her skin, which provide the barrier and link between herself and the world, and which can be artificially reinforced. At one point, for example, she puts a paper bag “over her head and [draws] a face on it, blind” (2008: 74) and her clothing, stiff with grime, also serves as an additional layer or buffer. Hattie notes that her “shirt is crusty” (115) and suggests that it will need to be cut off. Steven Connor, in The Book of Skin, points out that skin “in classical Greek culture … was regarded as a kind of excrescence, which could protect the integrity of the body precisely because it was not wholly of it” (2004: 11). The layers of encrusted dirt, blood, snot, food, tears, and sweat provide a type of excrescence that protects as it hardens, but is also capable of breaking down, wearing away, and being sloughed off.

The skin as a crust incorporates Thebes’s “thin red scratch marks on the inside of her wrists” (2008: 212), which are not as permanent as Logan’s scar or Min’s “deep rivets” (143), but do draw attention to the blood beneath, even if the scratches were meant to stop short at that safe nook or margin immediately below the surface. The scabbing of the cuts, like the crusting blood from the nosebleed, draws attention to the need for blood to flow from wounds, but also the necessity of staunching the blood to enable clotting and healing.

Thebes breaks through the containment of her skin and body when she meets an unexpected double, an “exact replica” (2008: 254) of herself in the form of her half-sister, nine-year-old Antonia—also very much a tween in appearance and behavior. In a spirit of flexibility and openness, Thebes easily and excitedly accepts this bizarre fluidity of herself and her family, taking in her stride the casually transitory ties of this Canadian-American, half-sibling, twenty-first-century familial relationship. The intimacy of Thebes and Antonia and the ease of their meeting and parting is a lesson in the flexibility of a fluid family unconcerned about the authoritative details of origins and family trees.

Thebes breaks through her body in a much more literal way, entering rather than exiting its surface, in the motel room where, unable to sustain the performance of the traveling tween, she cuts herself on her wrists. When she decides to phone Min and simply be herself rather than impersonate someone else, she ends up speaking to a mother who is unaware that her daughter exists. Ironically, Min pushes Thebes into the role of another, insisting on calling her Hattie, when Thebes, for once, is just trying to be herself. As the daughter of two parents who barely know her, and as the niece and sister of an aunt and brother who have temporarily deserted her, Thebes is unable to depend on her original family or her “ad hoc family” (2008: 90) to applaud her upbeat tween performance. She thus ceases to perform. The cuts, although shallow, are deeper than the stylized body performance that is achieved through glitter and colored markers.

The Flying Troutmans

Logan’s final message on the Troutmans’ dashboard consists of the date and a signature, “the f__ing Troutmans,” which Thebes changes with her glitter pen to “the flying Troutmans” (2008: 265–266, emphasis in original). She still believes in flight and glitter and so is able to revise the cynical story as written by Logan. Although limited by the van, road, and border crossings by land, Thebes insists on possibilities instead of drawbacks. When the Troutmans cross over into Arizona, Hattie says that she likes the way that Thebes “sat up in her seat then and looked around with fresh eyes, like things might be radically different now that we had crossed an invisible state line” (187). It is, of course, not the actual crossing of “the invisible state line,” but Thebes’s “fresh eyes” and her tween comfort with permeable borders and liminality that push the Troutmans and the family into flexibility. As Hattie looks at Thebes “in the rear-view mirror” on the final leg of the journey, she sees her in all her quirky tween glory and potential: “her hair was up Smurf-style again and she’d stuck glitter to her cheeks and eyelids” (264).

When the flying Troutmans finally pull “onto a narrow dirt road next to a bunch of tents pitched right up by the [Mexican-American] border,” Logan comments that “it’s not Paris” (2008: 266), reminding the family and reader of the distance that has been travelled since Hattie rushed home from Paris to be with Min, Logan, and Thebes. Emberley argues that “if the interdependencies between ‘the family’ and the ‘postnation’ are to be realized, a closer reading of the domestic, private, intimate, and personal spheres, as well as what counts as the imagination (and to whom and at what cost) must be examined” (2007: 170). Colorful, precocious, and quirky Thebes Troutman certainly provides clues as to what “counts as the imagination.” And it is the zany tween imagination, I argue, that holds particular value for a shifting family and evolving nation. Benedict Anderson’s question, “But why do nations celebrate their hoariness, not their astonishing youth?” (1986: 659) is relevant here. The family is less able to ignore the outlandish tween than is the nation, so it is through the family that the tween is celebrated to a point where she makes a difference, not only to the intimate and private realm but also to the public sphere. As Thebes stretches the origins and relationships of the Troutman family, so she expands and opens up the parameters and borders containing the nation, which is made up of fluid and evolving families. It is Thebes’s passion and vulnerability, openly displayed from the liminality of her tween position, that moves others to action, beginning with those closest to her and reverberating outwards from that now open and permeable family circle. Her liminality allows for crusty coverings to be successively sloughed, benefitting not only Thebes, but all who come into contact with her.

Traditional territories, families, and nations are marked by closed lines and systems, such as highways, family trees, and borders. The difficulty of relinquishing such rooted and reassuring boundaries and patterns is seen in the scars, cuts, hickeys, tattoos, letters, decorations, and colors that mark and penetrate the bodies of these three travellers when they arrive, “broken, cut, bleeding, bruised and filthy” (2008: 266) at their final destination. The Troutmans make the move from striated to smooth space in a process of deterritorialization, which is “but one step in an ongoing practice of a reterritorialization that attempts to restratify errant spaces” (Manning 2003: xx). The land journey imposes marks of suffering even as the journey of the flying imagination, led by Thebes, who soars above the doubting Hattie and cynical Logan, provides innovation and hope. Thebes’s body and words emerge from what Homi Bhabha identifies as the “liminal movement of the culture of the nation,” posing in its “strategy of intervention,” a “supplementary question” that may “disturb the calculation” (1994: 222), in this case, of the family. In the restratification of new spaces, the established origins and narratives of the Canadian family and nation are disturbed by the flying Troutmans, led by Thebes and her half-sister double Antonia, a pairing that not only extends this particular family but proposes that family is always extendable and that stability is not only impossible but undesirable in the newly opened spaces of the twenty-first century.

Notes
1

“tween, n.2”. OED Online. March 2017. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/247691?rskey=Y6Beyn&result=2&isAdvanced=false

2

See Coulter (2014) for references to studies and statistics on the growth of the tween market in the twenty-first century.

3

See Macfarlane (2007) for a discussion of the crisis initiating the road trip and Clarke (2004) for a discussion of how women’s road trips reshape gender roles.

4

“Nuclear family” is a term used since 1924 to refer to what is considered “the basic family group consisting typically of father, mother, and their dependent children, regarded as a social unit” “nuclear, adj. (and adv.) and n.”. OED Online. March 2017. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/128926?redirectedFrom=nuclear+family).

5

See Connor for a discussion of the skin as a temperature regulator (2004).

References

  • Anderson, Benedict. 1986. “Narrating the Nation.” Times Literary Supplement, 13 June.

  • Benthien, Claudia. 2002. Skin: On the Cultural Border between Self and the World. Trans. Thomas Dunlap. New York: Columbia University Press.

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    • Export Citation
  • Bhabha, Homi. 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.

  • Bloustein, Gerry. 2003. Girl-Making: A Cross-Cultural Ethnography on the Processes of Growing Up Female. New York: Berghahn.

  • Clarke, Deborah. 2004. “Domesticating the Car: Women’s Road Trips.” Studies in American Fiction 32 (1): 101128. doi.org/10.1353/saf.2004.0013.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Connor, Steven. 2004. The Book of Skin. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

  • Coulter, Natalie. 2014. Tweening the Girl: The Crystallization of the Tween Market. New York: Peter Lang.

  • Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guatarri. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Emberley, Julia. 2007. “Institutional Genealogies in the Global Net of Fundamentalisms, Families and Fantasies.” In Trans. Can. Lit.: Resituating the Study of Canadian Literature, ed. Smaro Kamboureli and Roy Miki, 153172. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gammel, Irene. 2008. Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic. Toronto: Key Porter.

  • Gammel, Irene. 2010. “Introduction: Reconsidering Anne’s World.” In Anne’s World: A New Century of Anne of Green Gables, ed. Irene Gammel and Benjamin Lefebvre, 316. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grosz, Elizabeth. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  • Macfarlane, Heather. 2007. Road Work: Theorizing the Road Trip Narrative in Anglophone Québécois and Indigenous Literatures in Canada. PhD diss. University of Toronto.

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    • Export Citation
  • Manning, Erin. 2003. Ephemeral Territories: Representing Nation, Home, and Identity in Canada. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitchell, Claudia, and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. 2005. “Theorizing Tween Culture within Girlhood Studies.” In Seven Going on Seventeen: Tween Studies in the Culture of Girlhood, ed. Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, 121. New York: Peter Lang.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Montgomery, L.M. (1908) 1992. Anne of Green Gables. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart NCL.

  • Toews, Miriam. 2004. A Complicated Kindness. Toronto: Knopf.

  • Toews, Miriam. 2008. The Flying Troutmans. Toronto: Knopf.

  • Zipes. Jack. 2008. “Introduction.” In L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, ed. Jack Zipes, ix–xxi. New York: Random House.

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Contributor Notes

Margaret Steffler is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at Trent University. Her areas of research include Canadian women’s fiction, life writing, and the construction of girlhood in Canadian and global contexts and narratives. Her edition of P.K. Page’s Mexican Journal was published in 2015. Recent publications include journal articles and book chapters on Miriam Toews, L.M. Montgomery, Carol Shields, and Alice Munro. E-mail: msteffler@trentu.ca

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • Anderson, Benedict. 1986. “Narrating the Nation.” Times Literary Supplement, 13 June.

  • Benthien, Claudia. 2002. Skin: On the Cultural Border between Self and the World. Trans. Thomas Dunlap. New York: Columbia University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bhabha, Homi. 1994. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge.

  • Bloustein, Gerry. 2003. Girl-Making: A Cross-Cultural Ethnography on the Processes of Growing Up Female. New York: Berghahn.

  • Clarke, Deborah. 2004. “Domesticating the Car: Women’s Road Trips.” Studies in American Fiction 32 (1): 101128. doi.org/10.1353/saf.2004.0013.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Connor, Steven. 2004. The Book of Skin. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

  • Coulter, Natalie. 2014. Tweening the Girl: The Crystallization of the Tween Market. New York: Peter Lang.

  • Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guatarri. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Emberley, Julia. 2007. “Institutional Genealogies in the Global Net of Fundamentalisms, Families and Fantasies.” In Trans. Can. Lit.: Resituating the Study of Canadian Literature, ed. Smaro Kamboureli and Roy Miki, 153172. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gammel, Irene. 2008. Looking for Anne: How Lucy Maud Montgomery Dreamed Up a Literary Classic. Toronto: Key Porter.

  • Gammel, Irene. 2010. “Introduction: Reconsidering Anne’s World.” In Anne’s World: A New Century of Anne of Green Gables, ed. Irene Gammel and Benjamin Lefebvre, 316. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Grosz, Elizabeth. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

  • Macfarlane, Heather. 2007. Road Work: Theorizing the Road Trip Narrative in Anglophone Québécois and Indigenous Literatures in Canada. PhD diss. University of Toronto.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Manning, Erin. 2003. Ephemeral Territories: Representing Nation, Home, and Identity in Canada. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mitchell, Claudia, and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh. 2005. “Theorizing Tween Culture within Girlhood Studies.” In Seven Going on Seventeen: Tween Studies in the Culture of Girlhood, ed. Claudia Mitchell and Jacqueline Reid-Walsh, 121. New York: Peter Lang.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Montgomery, L.M. (1908) 1992. Anne of Green Gables. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart NCL.

  • Toews, Miriam. 2004. A Complicated Kindness. Toronto: Knopf.

  • Toews, Miriam. 2008. The Flying Troutmans. Toronto: Knopf.

  • Zipes. Jack. 2008. “Introduction.” In L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, ed. Jack Zipes, ix–xxi. New York: Random House.

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