BOOKS What’s in Bleak a name? Plenty of laughs

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Deb­o­rah Bow­ers

IN his fourth novel, Cana­dian writer and un­abashed fun­ny­man Terry Fal­lis asks the age-old ques­tion: “What’s in a name?” No Re­la­tion takes us to New York City, where we en­counter an af­fa­ble 40-year-old copy­writer who loses his job, his girl­friend and his wal­let within 24 hours. He has a spec­tac­u­lar melt­down at the DMV while try­ing to ob­tain a new driver’s li­cence, which is recorded by a stranger and up­loaded to YouTube with the cap­tion “Fa­mous Writer Flips Out at the DMV.” His name? Earnest Hem­ming­way. Al­though the fa­mous au­thor’s name is spelled Ernest Hem­ing­way, the slight dif­fer­ence in spell­ing mat­ters not when it comes to the life­long jibes our pro­tag­o­nist has en­dured. “My name in­trudes daily,” he says. “A laugh. A smirk. A snide re­mark. There does not ex­ist a line I haven’t heard.”

Fal­lis’s first novel, The Best Laid Plans, was the 2011 win­ner of CBC’s Canada Reads con­test. Both his fol­lowup, 2011’s The High Road, and Up and Down were fi­nal­ists for the Stephen Lea­cock Me­mo­rial Medal for Hu­mour. He has earned a place on the CanLit stage along­side Lea­cock and Will Fer­gu­son. Fal­lis’s trade­mark hu­mour ap­pears early on, when Earnest Hem­ming­way (who prefers to go by “Hem”) is fired. His boss tries to soften the blow by say­ing: “You’ve got a huge pack­age.” His re­sponse? “Well, kind of you to say, but I’m re­ally more in­ter­ested in the set­tle­ment you’re of­fer­ing.” Hem is the fourth-gen­er­a­tion male in his fam­ily to bear the moniker, and his fa­ther fully ex­pects him to take over the fam­ily busi­ness, as is tra­di­tion. But Hem’s not in­ter­ested; he’s al­ways wanted to write a novel. He takes no cues from Hem­ing­way. “I can’t stand Hem­ing­way’s writ­ing. His sparse, flat prose never fails to take some­thing in­her­ently in­ter­est­ing — think bull fight­ing or war — and make it sound, well, spare and flat.” As Hem deals with a bad case of writer’s block, he de­cides to find other people who suf­fer from the fa­mous name af­flic­tion. He places an ad, hop­ing to meet a few in­ter­est­ing people. To his amaze­ment, he meets 11 people who share in his bur­den. His band of mis­fits in­cludes Peter Parker, Diana Ross, Jackie Kennedy, Marie An­toinette and Ju­lia Roberts. His new friends try to help Hem tackle his writer’s block. “The sen­sa­tion of re­ar­rang­ing the words in a sen­tence to heighten its im­pact, its in­ter­est, had all but de­serted me,” he says. “No lit­er­ary lax­a­tive could un­block my writ­ing.” His quest for an­swers takes him on an up­roar­i­ous world tour, but the writer’s block per­sists. The time Hem spends with his fam­ily is a piv­otal point in his jour­ney. Im­por­tant truths are re­vealed through a warm, thought­ful dis­sec­tion of fam­ily tra­di­tion and the oft-ex­plored theme of fol­low­ing one’s dreams. These pre­dictable yet feel-good plot twists are spiced up with a lit­tle cor­po­rate in­trigue. Fal­lis is no Hem­ing­way — nor does he want to be. No Re­la­tion de­liv­ers plenty of belly laughs, es­pe­cially through Hem’s new­found friends, such as Mario An­dretti, who wants to pass his driv­ing test af­ter fail­ing the exam mul­ti­ple times, and Ma­hatma Gandhi, a lovely but in­tense man with anger man­age­ment is­sues. What’s in a name? A lit­tle in­sight, some life-af­firm­ing truths, and a whole lot of laugh­ter.

Deb­o­rah Bow­ers is a Win­nipeg writer.

No Re­la­tion

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