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The High Road
By Terry Fallis
McClelland & Stewart, 330 pages, $20
"NEVER inform your audience you have a funny story to tell them," a famous comedian once warned his followers.
"People resent being told what's funny. Just tell them the story. If it turns out to be funny, they'll be surprised and delighted soon enough."
Nevertheless, an enthusiastic reviewer promises readers on the cover of this satirical novel that "you will laugh out loud on almost every single page."
People who missed Fallis's first novel, The Best Laid Plans, will dismiss this as rampant hyperbole. That would be a mistake. If not a laugh out loud, you will certainly find a chortle, a chuckle, a smirk, or at least one of those interior smiles that doesn't actually reach the muscles of your face, because it's already been replaced by a another one.
In Best Laid Plans (2006), the Toronto-based former Liberal Party strategist introduced us to a new brand of political satire -- the most irreverent, sophisticated and engaging CanLit has seen since Stephen Leacock.
It established a handful of characters meant to endure, notably Angus McLintock, an aging engineer of the crusty persuasion who, thanks to a juicy scandal, is elected to Parliament and shows the country what great things can be achieved by a politician, providing he doesn't care about getting re-elected.
Among McLintock's fellow travelers are his brilliant and somewhat hapless executive aide Daniel, his octogenarian fan Muriel, and Pete1 and Pete2, two pierced punksters keen on politics. Oh yes, and a cast of clowns from Parliament Hill.
Fallis did the rounds with Best Laid Plans but couldn't sell his debut manuscript. He wound up podcasting the work chapter by chapter, and, encouraged by public enthusiasm, publishing it himself.
It went on to win the much coveted Leacock Award for Humour in 2008. In The High Road, his characters continue their highjinks, revealing fresh truths about Canadian politics along the way.
This time, McLintock surprises everyone with his decision to run again, and there follows a campaign like no other, one which features prigs, pratfalls and canvassing by hovercraft. Also in the mix are a visiting U.S. president, his maniacal wife and a seriously demented U.S. Secret Service.
All of this is in interspersed with the secret letters the grizzled McLintock writes to his wife, who has recently died. They begin "My love ...", and each one adds depth and a certain poignancy to the prevailing hilarity.
Fallis deserves special kudos for his creation of Emerson Fox, aka The Flamethrower, a backroom Tory for 40 years and proud inventor of scorched-earth negative campaigning, whose hero is Richard Nixon.
This was the man who finally understood "you didn't have to release photos of a candidate snorting cocaine while robbing a convenience store in the company of his kids' scantily clad 16-year-old babysitter to have an impact on the campaign."
All you need is just one seed of doubt. And Flamethrower will be McLintock's opponent.
The High Road will entertain and inform Canadians who love politics (the few), those who hate politics (the many), and those who are disaffected and undecided (the majority?).
One hopes a long series of similar works from Fallis will follow.
Lesley Hughes is a Winnipeg writer, broadcaster and (despite everything) a lover of politics.