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Review: Up and Down by Terry Fallis

On his first day at Turner King, David Stewart quickly realizes that the world of international PR (affectionately, perhaps ironically, known as “the dark side”) is a far cry from his previous job on Parliament Hill. For one, he missed the office memo on the all-black dress code; for another, there are enough acronyms and jargon to make his head spin. Before he even has time to find the washroom, David is assigned a major project: devise a campaign to revitalize North America’s interest in the space program – maybe even show NASA’s pollsters that watching a shuttle launch is more appealing than going out for lunch with friends. The pressure is on, and before long, David finds himself suggesting the most out-of-this-world idea imaginable: a Citizen Astronaut lottery that would send one Canadian and one American to the International Space Station. Suddenly, David’s vaulted into an odyssey of his own, navigating the corporate politics of a big PR agency; wading through the murky but always hilarious waters of Canada-U.S. relations; and trying to hold on to his new job while still doing the right thing.

There’s a truth universally acknowledged that … a man in PR will need all his wits about him. That’s never truer than in Terry Fallis’ new novel, Up and Down where David has to juggle the needs of his multinational employer, the execution of a crazy marketing idea for NASA that just might work, his genuine fondness for Landon Percival, and his own complicated family situation. First impressions? This book cracked me up. I started reading it, and found myself laughing aloud at 2 am, wishing someone else was up so I could share some really great lines. It’s a highly accessible read that pokes gentle fun at the corporate worlds of public relations and NASA while introducing you to some great characters. .

I enjoyed David, and can only hope that there will be more stories about him; he’s entirely engaging and so likeable. He has that great mix of weary determination from life on the ‘Hill, coupled with a desire to keep his new job at TK and a belief in doing what’s right – even if you do work in PR. Despite everything going on around him, David has a wry sense of humour (not unlike Fallis’ own!) and an innate ability to cut to the heart of the matter:

“I hate it when people use the world “tolerant” to describe how enlightened they are about gays and lesbians. It would never be acceptable to say that someone is “tolerant” of women, or blacks, or Roman Catholics…What’s to “tolerate”?”

Without giving too much away (because half the fun is in the discovery), Landon Percival is a gem. Honestly, can we have another book with Landon, Terry? I loved everything about this character –her determination, her intelligence and her passion are part of what make her so great. Oh, and her dry sense of humour…. Wonderful. That she is highly intelligent, and a great fan of Sherlock Holmes is only icing on the cake.

Within all the humour are a few very touching lesser stories, connected in that they both deal with finding the way to say goodbye to a parent. Fallis deals with this with sensitivity, allowing us to accept that even when we know when it’s time, saying goodbye to those we love is never easy. As a counterpoint, there’s a wonderfully sly look at Canadian/American relations, with a special focus on the stereotypes we hold about our closest neighbours. While some of my American friends may harumph over the portrayal of Crawford, his … unique … style transcends boundaries, and he’s the boss you love to hate.

I had the pleasure of co-hosting Terry Fallis at a recent event at our local bookstore, and he’s just as charming and personable as you would expect. In fact, while he might try to deny it, he’s a lot like David. Did you also know that he has an uncanny ability to ‘predict’ the future – in one of his prior books, he described an October election that resulted in a minority Conservative government. Fast-forward … Um, yeah. Scary. Does this mean that we are looking at a “Citizen Astronaut” program in the near future? If so, I’m first in line.

Terry Fallis with a fan at his recent book signing.

 

Author Terry Fallis

Up and Down is available from fine Canadian retailers such as Indigo, Amazon and your friendly independent bookstore. It is published by McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House Canada and was given to me in exchange for an honest review (but I would have purchase and reviewed it anyway!). Paperback, 432 pages

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Categorised in: Personal Musing, Reviews

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