We all feel sometimes that we are trapped in our lives. ‘Who we are’, ‘what we do’ and ‘who we are with’ are phrases that seem to depress us into thinking that we are stuck in a rut of unhappiness. And it sometimes takes a good book or a good network of friends to help us see out of that rut of unhappiness. Terry Fallis has written a book about somebody who finds a good network of friends to help him out of a rut of unhappiness. And No Relation is a pleasurable book to read.
I was in a surly mood by the time I made it into our apartment on Bank Street, almost at Bleecker, in the West Village. It wasn’t just losing my job. I’d remembered on the way home that I’d lost my wallet on the subway the day before. Funny how losing your job can make you forget about losing your wallet. It was well and truly gone. Stray wallets don’t last long on New York subways, and they never make it to the MTA’s Lost and Found.
When the elevator opened, Jenn and her brother, Paul, were standing there in the corridor with a cardboard box and a couple of suitcases.
“Oh hi, Paul,” I said. “Are you moving in for a while?”
Jenn had kind of a dazed look on her face.
“Shit,” she said.
“Believe it or not, you’re the second person to say that to me this morning.” I replied.
The story deals with a copywriter/aspiring novelist living in New York City. Life seems to him to push him into a rut when he looses; his wallet, his job and his girlfriend all in the same day. He continually sits down in front of his computer screen to write his chapter 12 of his novel yet no words come forth. He feels alone and frustrated. Oh yes, he also suffers from the fact of being unfortunately named Earnest Hemmingway.
“Look, mister. You expect me to believe that any sane parent would give their son that name. I ain’t buying what you’re selling. You got in ID. So back off and go and get your jollies somewhere else. We’re busy here. Try the passport office on Hudson. They’re loads of fun.” She pointed in a vaguely southerly direction as she said it. “Next in line, please!”
I’ve often heard of people snapping under the cumulative stress of a situation. All of a sudden a bolt pops loose and that nice gentle man who gives to charity and volunteers at the food bank somehow steps off the deep end and turns into a raving lunatic. Well, it was different for me. You see, I volunteer at the Planned
Parenthood Clinic down on Bleecker, not at the food bank. But everything else was just about the same. You know, the deep end, raving lunatic part. So much for my civility instinct.
“Wait just a second,” I shouted, yes, shouted. “Wait one second! That is the name I was christened with forty years ago. I am not impersonating anyone. The spelling is not even the same. There’s an ‘a’ in my first name and a double ‘m’ in the second. See, it’s a completely different name. Okay, now try to focus. I’ve had a very, very bad day and I need a new driver’s licence. Your job is to make that happen. Please do it now!”
“Security to 10,” was all she said into her headset. She sounded tired.
Fallis has the ability to create complex plots while writing in a very simple style. And the story he tells with Hem is a great one to read. He gives a bit of morality play buried in between some extremely funny scenes which makes this book enlightening and fun to read.
The next week was frustrating and dispiriting. It left me a little unnerved, even a little afraid. It honestly felt like I might now ever be able to write again. Not a good state for the wannabe writer blessed, for once, with time and money simultaneously. I found that I’d actually forgotten how it felt to craft sentences, to find the perfect word, the perfect tense, the perfect construction. The sensation of rearranging the words in a sentence to heighten its impact, its interest, had all but deserted me. No literary laxative could unblock my writing, and I tried many. The Internet was a bottomless well of never-fail cures that in my hands were never-cure fails. I could sense Hemingway’s ghost hovering, an oppressive, smirking, sneering presence. I waited for it to speak. But it never did.
No Relation by Terry Fallis is light read even though it has a complex plot. Fallis documents several foibles of the human condition we all suffer from and shows us that we are at least not alone with our failings. A pleasurable read.