Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Up and Down by Terry Fallis

October's book club selection was Terry Fallis's third novel, Up and Down. Like the first two, this novel is funny, heartfelt, poignant - and very Canadian. The story starts with David Stewart's first day on the job as a PR rep at a Toronto firm. But "before he even has time to find the bathroom," he is assigned a major project: find a way to sell NASA to the public.

And so the story of Up and Down begins: David most recently worked in Ottawa, with the Science and Tech minister, and has close ties to the Canadian Space Agency; he has not yet succumbed to the cynicism and bitterness of the private sector; and he keeps his sense of humour throughout. David must now find a way to win the NASA account for his firm, and then find a way to win the public's attention once he has that account. (It's not a suspense novel by any means, but there are some plot points that I will omit so that a new reader can read it fresh for the first time).

Fallis's narrative style is engaging and humorous. The reader is clearly on the side of the protagonist, and the antagonist is well-defined. There are no surprises, but it is delightful nonetheless. It's like watching Star Wars for the umpteenth time - you know they're going to win, but it remains fascinating.

That's not to diminish Fallis's novel in any way, or his writing style. He is a great writer, providing the narrative nudges gracefully and handling the poignant moments - for instance, David's mother is very ill - with seriousness. As in The Best Laid Plans and The High Road, his characters are memorable and, again, very Canadian. It is understandable that he won the Stephen Leacock Prize for Humour (The Best Laid Plans): his comic timing and charm are dead on.

I enjoyed this book thoroughly. Certainly, fans of Terry Fallis will enjoy it. But I would also recommend it to fans of humour writing, or even space writing - without getting into too many spoilers, I can tell you that former Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau was a consultant on the book. Personally, I will anticipate the next Fallis release greatly.

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