More satire, please, we’re Canadian
D. GRANT BLACK
May 3, 2008
THE BEST LAID PLANS
By Terry Fallis
iUniverse, 257 pages, $21.95
A few years ago, CBC-TV foolishly cancelled Snakes and Ladders, a political dramedy set on Parliament Hill. The appetite for more Canadian political intrigue, especially with a satiric bent, is still there. But where do you find it in novel form?
First-time novelist Terry Fallis knew there was an audience. So he penned The Best Laid Plans and shopped it around to Canada’s publishers, but was not offered a book deal. So the tenacious Fallis self-published his 2007 book of fiction through iUniverse.
Fallis also submitted his own book to the judges of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. And this week, The Best Laid Plans won the $10,000 prize, beating out such A-list authors as Will Ferguson and Douglas Coupland.
This self-published wonder should be a cause for concern for the decision-makers at Canada’s faltering publishing houses about what should be jumping out of their slush piles, into print and on to national market.
The Best Laid Plans is not the best book of political satire I’ve read, but it’s amusing, enlightening – and Canadian. It deftly explores the Machiavellian machinations of Ottawa’s political culture, from the grassroots level in a fictitious federal riding during an election campaign, to the Wizards of Ottawa who operate the levers behind the curtain. This is a great platform to create satire that verges on parody.
Fallis, a former Ottawa backroom player who now runs the Toronto PR firm Thornley Fallis, is all too familiar with how the federal political game is played. The Best Laid Plans is written in first person through the eyes of the main protagonist, Daniel Addison, a 32-year-old former speechwriter to the leader of the Liberal opposition.
It’s immediately clear that Addison is a mouthpiece for Fallis’s own political views and the failings in Canada’s Parliament. This is how he starts his prologue: “I could take no more. With the backroom boys still driving Machiavelli’s motor coach, I was just a helpless, hapless passenger as they tossed the public interest under the wheels yet again. Just to be sure, we stopped, backed up, and rumbled over it once more. It was time to bail out. … On Parliament Hill, the pendulum of power swings between the cynical political operators (CPOs) and the idealist policy wonks (IPWs). It’s a naturally regulating model that inevitably transfers power from one group to another – and back again.”
After finishing his PhD on the side, Addison leaves his speechwriting job for a chance to become a tenured English professor at the University of Ottawa. But he owes one more favour to his Grit overlords: Find a Liberal candidate to run in the upcoming federal election against an entrenched Tory incumbent.
Addison’s lame-duck candidate is Angus McLintock, an indifferent 60-year-old Scots immigrant and professor of mechanical engineering. While the other characters are believably drawn, especially the Liberal leader’s obnoxious executive assistant, I struggled with McLintock, who seemed nothing more than a caricature when he was introduced.
McLintock is The Simpsons’ Groundskeeper Willie with a PhD. His pedantic tendency to correct people on proper English usage is odd since he speaks in a Scots dialect that sounds as if he just stepped out of an 18th-century Robbie Burns poem: “Aye, I cannae argue with you. Feel free to remind me what it feels like to face a rabble like that the next time me confidence clouds me judgment.”
Eventually, I came around, as the character developed into a chess-playing, hovercraft-building political rebel.
That Fallis’s political satire has won the Leacock could signal a sustained return of the go-for-the-jugular social and political satire missing in Canada these days.
D. Grant Black is a Saskatchewan journalist and editor who has considered self-publishing for his satire project.