Terry Fallis constructs each of his comedic novels in a similar manner. The hero is invariably an underappreciated male spin-meister employed in politics, advertising, or public relations. The spin-meister – Fallis is one himself, when he’s not writing novels – confronts a vexing dilemma, hobnobs with a cast of outrageous eccentrics, and eventually solves everyone’s problems.
No Relation is the story of New York City ad copywriter Earnest Hemmingway. The similarity similarity of the protagonist’s name to that of the famous American author causes him no end of difficulty, but that’s not all that troubles him. Within the first few pages, Earnest loses his wallet, his job, his girlfriend, and his temper. He is being relentlessly pressured by his father to take over the family firm, Hemmingwear, which manufactures men’s underwear. Earnest wants to be a writer, not an underwear king, but he struggles with writer’s block.
Amid all these problems, Earnest decides to establish a support group for people with famous names. Marie Antoinette joins and falls in love with him. Other club members include Mahatma Ghandi – a man possessed of a terrible temper – Mario Andretti, Diana Ross, Jesse Owens, and others, all of whom are quite unlike their famous namesakes.
With the help of his new friends, Earnest embarks on an unusual international journey with the goal of overcoming the mysterious force that prevents him from writing the great American novel. Those same friends help Earnest uncover a multinational’s dastardly plot to take over Hemmingwear. Along the way, Earnest also learns to deal with his small-dog phobia.
Fallis manages to create original, albeit kooky, characters and an absurdist plot told in punchy, spare prose. Reading a Fallis novel is like watching The Big Bang Theory or some other well-scripted TV sitcom. You laugh, you are entertained, you return to your regular life slightly refreshed. Books like No Relation are meant to be enjoyed and then forgotten. Parsing them in any greater detail risks ruining the fun.