Here’s the review of No Relation that will appear in the National Post on Saturday, June 14, 2014. My stomach is always in knots when I know a major media outlet is reviewing one of my novels. But those knots are untangled now.
By Terry Fallis
McClelland & Stewart
395 pp; $22.95
Only once, ever, has someone pronounced my last name correctly on the first attempt. Most people, instead, say Roo-ba-cha. (It is pronounced Rue-bach-a.) Over the years, the thing I’ve most enjoyed about my unique last name is that there just aren’t many of us; there are two others that I’m aware of, and none of us is famous — yet. When I was younger, and introduced myself, people usually thought I was saying “Rebecca.” To fix this, I figured I’d just go by Nicole — like Cher, or Madonna.
Our names are important; they help shape who we are. Sometimes you meet someone and when they tell you their name, it doesn’t seem to suit them (“You don’t look like an Emily … ”) while others seem to fit their names perfectly, like a well-worn pair of jeans. We ascribe personalities to names — all Lindsays and Victorias are rude, while all Megans and Charlottes are nice. Some people change their name, believing the original just wasn’t right. We name our children, of course, and our pets, but also boats, sometimes our cars, sometimes a house. Some families ascribed so much importance to a name that they pass it down from generation-to-generation, like an heirloom. But what do you do when your name happens to already belong to someone famous?
That’s the problem facing Earnest Hemmingway, a middle-aged ad copywriter living in the Big Apple. He feels that any other famous name would be more bearable than the one he’s been saddled with by his father, Earnest Hemmingway III (EH3), who is pressuring him to take over the family business. He understands Hemingway was, and is, greatly admired, but he just can’t stand the man’s writing. He goes by “Hem,” instead.
When the teller at the DMV doesn’t believe his name is Earnest Hemmingway, Hem loses it — yelling and banging on the glass partition. The whole incident is recorded, uploaded to YouTube and, of course, goes viral. Among the commenters, Hem notices a small group of nine people come to his defence. Coincidentally, all of his defenders share a name with someone famous. This gives him an idea. Hem decides to track down others who share his unusual problem. He posts an ad in The New York Times seeking people who share famous names in hopes of establishing a support group, of sorts, where those saddled with famous monikers can help each other with the problems their names cause.
Hem’s problem is that he isn’t just a copywriter, but an aspiring novelist suffering from writer’s block, which he believes is being caused by the ghost of Ernest Hemingway. To exorcise the ghost, Hem sets out on a geographical tour of the real Hemingway’s career, travelling to Toronto (where he was a reporter for the Star) then Paris, Pamplona, Key West, and, lastly, to Ketchum, Idaho, where the writer took his own life. Considering Hem doesn’t like the guy, you can rest assured there are going to be some bumps along the way.
As with his past novels, which include The Best Laid Plans and The High Road, Fallis employs an easygoing yet compelling writing style . The subject matter turns serious, at times, but Fallis keeps things light, finding humour in dark situations.
I once had a job where a client’s file listed her name as Julia Roberts. I wondered if she resembled the famous actress and what it must be like to walk around with such a famous name. Why didn’t she change her name to Julie? Was this her married name or was she born into it? My mind wandered repeatedly back to this curious situation while I was reading No Relation. So what’s in a name? When it’s Terry Fallis, you know it means a good book.
Nicole Rubacha is a freelance writer and screenwriter.