“What’s in a name?” Juliet famously queried. “That which we call a rose, would smell as sweet” were it called something else, she noted as she contemplated the trouble that was caused by her true love having the last name of her family’s sworn rival. In his latest novel, Terry Fallis has taken that question to the next level and the result is the hilariously funny No Relation. No Relation is Fallis’ fourth book – and the third I’ve read (I have Up and Down on my nightstand – queued up for reading when I finish my current book). As a political junkie, I adored The Best Laid Plans and its sequel The High Road. They were laugh out loud funny, and I was a little concerned about whether the smart and poignant political satire would transfer into a book that wasn’t at all political.
I needn’t have worried. No Relation is not only as funny as Fallis’ earlier works, it packs the same emotional punches too. You can’t help but feel for the protagonist, Earnest Hemmingway; in the span of the first few chapters he loses his job, his wallet, and his long time girlfriend. At this point I figured the book was going to be one of those uplifting stories about how he bounced back and made his life awesome again, which, in a way it was, but the devil is in the details and when you have a famous name, things aren’t quite as easy as they seem. Things are particularly hard for Earnest, who, by the way, cannot stand the writing of his famous namesake. Take replacing your driver’s licence – a giant pain for anyone, but it enters 4th circle of hell proportions for Earnest when the nice (or not so nice) bureaucrats at the DMV don’t believe him when he gives his name, which leads to an epic scene and ends with Earnest not only not getting a replacement but his outburst going viral on YouTube. I laughed so hard I cried while reading that chapter.
Earnest, or Hem as he prefers for obvious reasons, eventually does get his driver’s licence replaced, but the incident at the DMV sparks something in him and he sets out to find other people who share his fate by having a famous name. Enter the Name Fame group. Mario Andretti (who can’t pass his driving test), Mahatma Gandhi, Diana Ross, Jackie Kennedy, Clark Kent, Peter Parker, James Moriarty, Marie Antoinette (who owns a bakery) and other New Yorkers with famous monikers who bear – No Relation to their famous namesakes. They form a support group to help each other through the trials and tribulations that come with having a name that everyone knows (even if you have the wrong face to go with the name).
The name fame group sets out to help Hem with his writer’s block (yes, Earnest Hemmingway decides to pursue his goal of writing a novel when he is laid off -which is exactly what I expect out of a Terry Fallis character) and hilarity ensues. Add all of this to the subplot of Earnest’s father (who is also named Earnest Hemmingway) wanting Hem to take over the family underwear business – a business Hem wants absolutely nothing to do with, and you have the makings of a book that is not only uproariously funny, but also deeply touching.
No Relation is available for e-readers and trade paperback with a fabulous deckled edging (those are the awesome ruffled edges found on some trade paperback books and I’m a huge fan) from Amazon.ca (You can click on the link to check out the book – it has the cool Amazon preview thing where you can look inside the book). The book is also available as a podcast – I listened to the book after I’d finished reading it as Fallis reads it himself and does all the different voices which alone make it worth listening to. I adore audiobooks but I’m weird in that I always want to read the physical book in addition to (and if possible before) listening to an audio book. Maybe this is why I rarely run out of things to read. If you’re in need of a good laugh, and who isn’t these days, pick up a copy of No Relation. I should mention that the book is also on the short list for the 2015 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. I’ve read 3 of the other short listed books and I’d vote for No Relationif I was on the panel. The others were funny but not laugh-until-your-sides-hurt-and-your-family-looks-at-you-like-you’ve-lost-your-mind funny. No Relation is as funny as Fallis’ political humour books and is a must read for fans of smart Canadian literature.