Reviews

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A thoughtful review in Pique, a Whistler based news magazine.

Book Review: One Brother Shy by Terry Fallis is a tragi-comic dance launched by death

By Nicola Bentley

In his latest book, One Brother Shy, Terry Fallis weaves a fictional story of one man’s personal conquest and adult coming-of-age in the author’s recognizable style, where tragedy dances with humour and adventure mixes with incredulousness.

Alex MacAskill, a shy computer engineer, leads a simple but tortured life. He is haunted by an incident from his past known only as “Gabriel.” Staying out of the line of fire at work and caring for his dying mother consume Alex’s days.

When Alex’s mother dies she leaves him with an envelope. Its contents send Alex on a journey to face his past and discover the family he never knew he had.

We root for Alex as he pushes himself well beyond his comfort zone to solve the puzzle his mother’s death created. As he follows clue after clue from Canada to England and on to Russia he solves one piece of the mystery after another and discovers his true self in the process. I enjoyed the international element of the story, which also maintained an adventurous pace.

One Brother Shy is also full of contrasts, which add to its reader appeal. High-tech software development is teamed with life behind the former Iron Curtain; brotherly love and renewed family ties are woven into hoodwinking corporate America. There’s also a connection to the Russian national hockey team, which highlights our most favoured sport and makes this a truly Canadian story.

The characters are well crafted despite being somewhat stereotypical. There’s the geeky girlfriend in waiting, the nurturing care aid, the hip tech start-up dude, and a mysterious man from the past. Fallis mines real-life events and heaps in a good measure of fantasy as he builds the cast of characters that help Alex in his quest to discover who he really is.

One Brother Shy is written with Fallis’ attention to detail and honesty. He is an expert at weaving tragedy with humour and crisis is transformed into an adventure. Fallis also makes the fantastical seem very achievable. This is an adventure that keeps you turning the pages and cheering for the underdog. You’ll laugh out loud and it may even keep you up into the wee hours.

Nicola Bentley writes about travel and wellness and enjoys reading good finds by hardworking Canadian authors.

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Note: Several plot spoilers in this review

Twins reunite in quest to find father in One Brother Shy

In One Brother Shy by Terry Fallis, the search for family is also a tale of self-discovery.

Aficionados of novelist Terry Fallis’s fiction could be forgiven for thinking his new novel, One Brother Shy, might be the kind of comic turn that has earned him two Stephen Leacock Medals for Humour. But they’d be wrong. Although one central character’s somewhat chippy personality has its amusing moments, the book is more psychological whodunit than side-splitting farce. The book is also something of an ode to one of the most unique emotional bonds a human can experience — the ineffable connection shared by identical twins.

But at the narrative’s outset, the shy, diffident and, yes, chippy Ottawa-based Alex MacAskill has no idea he was separated at birth from his much more sophisticated London-based twin brother Matt Paterson. Resolving the mystery of their separation and discovering the father they never knew keeps the novel humping along at a breakneck pace.

The action begins with the death of Alex’s mother and two pictures she leaves behind as a mysterious legacy. One of them shows a man, seen only from the shoulders down, cradling two newborns in his arms. The pictures contain a clue that would be critical to tracking him down: an odd tattoo on the left arm. But Alex initially has more pressing business: finding his twin who’s out there — somewhere.

Alex possesses a useful skill to aid and abet his sleuthing. A brilliant code writer, he’s developing state-of-the-art facial-recognition software, so faster than a speeding hard drive, Alex quickly discovers his bro is a successful tech entrepreneur in London and seemingly his polar opposite, emotionally, psychologically and experientially. Or is he?

A compelling subplot in One Brother Shy is the impact of a humiliating trauma Alex experienced as a 15-year-old aspiring high-school actor. After spiking his Coke with a Viagra-like pill, two bullies lower a dazed, naked — and tumescent — Alex onto the stage of his high-school Christmas pageant and the ensuing video — “ARCHangel” — became the Internet’s first viral sensation. Humiliated, Alex retreats from life, going emotionally AWOL for the next decade, until he meets his twin.

Once reunited, the twins go in search of their father, an odyssey that takes them to Putin’s Moscow with its vestiges of Soviet-era spooks and memories of the 1972 U.S.S.R.-Canada hockey series. Eventually, they succeed in finding their dad, but that is not the book’s emotional crescendo, IMO. That transpires when shy, taciturn Alex, the one-time aspiring actor, rediscovers himself by “playing” his brother, sidelined by laryngitis just before a make-or-break corporate dog-and-pony show. But had his twin tricked him into undergoing an emotional catharsis? Alex, confrontationally: “You never lost your voice, did you?” Matt, cryptically: “I lost mine, you found yours.” Now that’s identical twin love.

One Brother Shy is a charming, affecting book with perhaps one little caveat: Fallis’s tendency to tie up all plot lines with the precision of a daytime soap. A small quibble, perhaps.

Robert Collison is a Toronto writer and editor.

 

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Winnipeg Free Press Review