THE HIGH ROAD by Terry Fallis (Emblem/McClelland & Stewart), 327 pages, $19.99 paper.
Fallis appears tonight (Thursday, March 17) at the Barbara Frum Library and Wednesday (March 23) at the Northern District Library. See Readings. Rating: NN
Either the business of politics is deadly dull or Terry Fallis is a mediocre writer, but either way, The High Road is a dud.
In his follow-up to 2007's The Best Laid Plans, the 2010 winner of CBC's Canada Reads contest, Fallis again taps his experience as a Liberal insider (aid to Jean Chrétien, legislative assistant to Robert Nixon, to name just two positions) in the 80s. This time he portrays the re-election campaign of loose cannon Liberal Angus McLintock, as told from the point of view of his executive assistant, Daniel Addison.
This is supposed to be satire, so we can almost forgive the stereotypes: endearing biddy Muriel, who gathers the elderly troops in her retirement home; Bradley, the PM's prick of an assistant; and McLintock himself, flawless except for his untameable beard and famous stubbornness, seen here as a virtue.
It's the absence of real conflict that makes the book such a snore. Every time a small snag occurs, the problem is easily smoothed out, and what tension there is in the narrative never deepens.
And the clichés are positively cringe-making. Fallis uses the Shakespearean term "slings and arrows" in a way so egregious that even a junior editor should know enough to delete the reference.
Though it was overrated, copping the Stephen Leacock Medal as well as Canada Reads kudos, The Best Laid Plans scored because people get a kick out of peeking inside political back rooms. Emboldened by his success, Fallis went back to the well instead of digging a new one; unfortunately, that old well has dried up.